Once a year my family would take a vacation to Balboa Island near Newport Beach in SoCal. I learned young that the ocean is a joyful, merciless, awesome thing. There are nice beaches in the world and in my opinion, Newport Beach (especially the section near Ruby’s on the pier) is not one of them. It’s fun and fancy but the waves form fast, spike to crazy heights, then curl and crash with thunderous violence directly into the exposed sand. There is no graceful taper like on the east coast beaches where it is 2 feet deep for miles as the land meets the shore.
There is nothing like the withering fear that grabs my ribcage when I am floating out in the ocean and see a large wave forming on the horizon and realize I am not in the blessed sweet spot where I’ll float over the top before it crashes. That terrible realization that I am about to get crushed and there’s nothing I can do about it is my earliest understanding of terror.
This week a lovely, dear family we know endured a heartbreaking, brutal loss. I mean like a groaning, time won’t heal it, loss. As I have been thinking about them and aching for them I started drawing the above illustration in my head. I thought of my own life and how facing pain and loss has been like facing down a terrible wave.
I had to learn that the only way to deal with the pain, just like when you’re facing a wave, is to dive headfirst through it. The last couple of years I have been in a difficult season of recurring loss and the best advice I read was the simple quote by Earl Grollman, “the only cure for grief is to grieve.” And just like diving under a crashing wave, going through grief is a dark, lonely, hold your breath, kicking, desperate, struggle.
God gives us a promise for these situations through the prophet Isaiah. He straight up promises “When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you.” In one translation it reads “…and the rivers of difficulty will not drown you.”
I would not have thought this possible had it not proven to be so in my own life recently. Somehow, by giving me his presence, God enabled me to keep kicking and holding my breath through each wave until I eventually surfaced. If you are diving through a wave as you read this I hope this verse gives you some encouragement.