The Not-So-Distant Shore
There seems to be a bit of hope. Could it be that somehow the Coronavirus fog may be lifting? This weekend many states have started to reopen industries, small business, and the new normal of life. Of course, there are many opinions and divisions that go along with these decisions. Some prefer to continue the quarantine and prevent further spread while others see the need to get things going again or we will have bigger problems than the Coronavirus. And surely it is much more complicated than this.
There are people in this season who range from surviving to thriving, but there are others who tip the scales in the other direction and feel like they are dying right now. When the thick cloud of fog surrounds and disorientation sets in, we reach for the white flag. This fog of trouble, worry, doubt, depression, health problems, unemployment, financial uncertainty, strained relationships, and loss of loved ones is real. In Southern California alone, one suicide hotline took 22 calls in the month of February related to the Coronavirus. In March, that number soared to 1,800 calls — more than an 8,000% increase.
To those in the midst of this dense fog, don't give up hope.
Florence Chadwick was an incredible woman who is best known as a long-distance open water swimmer. Growing up a swimmer in Southern California, she discovered the open water was better than being confined to a pool. At the age of 10 she was the youngest to swim across the mouth of the San Diego bay. She was the first woman to swim the English Channel, both ways, and set a record each time she did.
In 1952, Florence attempted to swim the 26 mile channel between the California coastline to Catalina island. After 15 hours of swimming, a thick fog set in and so did her despair. Her mother was traveling alongside her in a company of other boats and Florence told her mother she did not think she could make it. She continued swimming for another hour before giving up and getting pulled out, not able to see the coastline through the fog. As she was recovering in the boat, she discovered that she was pulled out less than a mile from the shore.
When being interviewed at a news conference the following day she said, "All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”
I could have a phenomenal career as the "Director of Safety and Risk Management" for you-name-the-company. It is second nature for me to look at a scenario and imagine a thousand things that could go wrong. Thinking about the Catalina Channel, there are countless things that could bring peril. Sharks. Cramps. Exhaustion. Sharks. Cold water. Hunger. Sharks. But fog? I wouldn't have guessed it.
How many times have you focused on the fog because you couldn't see the shore? Have you ever given up a mile short of land?
Two months later Florence re-entered the waters of the Pacific Ocean and reached her destination on the shores of Catalina Island. Guess what? That same fog rolled in again during her swim. This time when she was interviewed, she said, "I kept a mental image of the shoreline in my mind while I was swimming." She later went on to accomplish this feat on two other occasions.
Don't underestimate the fog in your life. Don't waste this season. There is a redemptive through-line that runs amidst this season of unseen. While this time is disorienting, there is potential for great good. But hear me out, this good might not be the good you are thinking of right now. The good that comes from this time does not mean that you will have survived financially and will make up your 401K losses by the end of the fourth quarter. The good that comes from this time does not mean that you applied yourself, dropped 15 pounds, and are seeing the emergence of that six-pack you hoped for. The good that comes from this time does not mean that you learned French and the trip you are planning for Paris this fall will be that much better. Those are all good, even great. But the redemptive good that comes from any season of fog and disorientation is a greater intimacy with God.
But what does that look like? I think of "The Odyssey" by Homer. The opening line of "The Odyssey" introduces Odysseus as “the man of twists and turns.” He is labeled as such because his journey, and his story, are anything but straightforward. This is the story of a man whose grand adventure is simply to go back to his own home, where he tries to turn everything back to the way it was before he went away. Just surviving the trip home would be enough. The journey that should have lasted weeks took ten years. Poseidon is essentially trying to take Odysseus out, but there is something admirable in his determination to reach the land before him.
"Ah me! I fear that here again an immortal plots me harm in bidding me leave my raft. I will not yet obey; for in the distance I saw land, where it was said my safety lies. This I will do, for best it seems: so long as the beams hold in the fastenings, here I will stay and bide what I must bear; but when the surge batters my raft to pieces, then I will swim. There is no better plan." (The Odyssey, Book V, p. 64)
There is part of me that wants to tell us to keep swimming, don't give up. Just push through. But I also want to have our perspective be that the great Immortal Who reigns over this earth is in no way plotting us harm to bring about our demise. It is certainly in times like these the invitation to walk (or swim) with Him is evermore present. It is in times like these that we wake up each morning I declare our trust though it feels evading. Friends, this is more than just getting through the quarantine. This is about meeting a God in the midst of our trials and saying our full trust and dependence are in Him. The end of this will come soon enough. Out of the greatest darkness there is often the brightest light.
Irish poet, John O’Donohue writes the following:
“If you have ever had occasion to be out early in the morning before the dawn breaks, you will have noticed that the darkest time of night is immediately before dawn. The darkness deepens and becomes more anonymous. If you had never been to the world and never known what a day was, you couldn’t possibly imagine how the darkness breaks, how the mystery and color of a new day arrive. Light is incredibly generous, but also gentle. When you attend to the way the dawn comes, you learn how light can coax the dark.”
This too shall pass. The King will sit, and reign, from His throne. Psalm 97:1 says, "The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice." To all those reaching toward distant shores socked in by the fog, a light is coming. We might not be able to see through the fog now, but have faith. The shore is close.
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)