This is a slightly more religiously-themed post than some of my others, based on some things that happened this weekend.
I need something. I need someone. I need someone to show me that they are thinking about me. Without me telling them. I just want to know that I’m not invisible.
This thought crosses my mind less frequently than it used to, I am happy to say, but every now and then, there it is. The feeling that I am invisible. Drowning in my own problems and worries, far from the view of any possible onlookers who could, theoretically, throw me a rope or, at the very least, yell some encouraging words as I struggle towards the shore.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.*
But invariably I feel that I am struggling alone. I know that I can make it to the shore by myself, I know I’m going to be fine if I keep swimming toward it. I just want someone to know that I’m struggling. I want them to be there when I finally make it to the shore so we can commiserate about the coldness of the water, the choppiness of the waves, so I can hear about how they had to do that once before, too, and it was hard. The fact that I don’t see or hear anyone on shore, cheering me on or wondering if I am okay does not change the result of the story: I’ll get back on solid ground, but no one will know of my struggles unless I tell them. And by then the drama will be gone. I will be fine. I will have gotten over the fear and frustration. I will be able to look back with relief, if not a smile and a laugh. Which will leave me feeling even more alone, more isolated, more invisible in my struggles.
It has taken me a long time to realize that there is nobody on the shore for a reason: everyone is in the water with me. So focused have I been on my own sorrows and worries and fears that I could not hear or see others struggling through their own sorrows and worries and fears. But if there is anything more invigorating than seeing that someone else is right there beside me, navigating the same waters that I am, and that they are just as uncomfortable and out of breath and longing to be seen by someone on shore as I am, I don’t know what it is. Because suddenly there is someone to be friends with, to laugh about the absurdity of the situation with, to race to shore with, to take turns swimming in each other’s wake to preserve my own strength with.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
I know this now, and yet it is still hard to see the others swimming beside me. And it is hard to be the one to call out to them. Maybe they want to be left alone? Maybe they need to concentrate? Maybe they hate brown-haired, brown-eyed girls and will swim right over me? Or maybe they aren’t struggling at all, but simply out for a pleasure swim? (At midnight? In eel-infested waters?) It is hard, sometimes, to catch my own breath long enough to yell to someone else, to let them know that I see them, and are we having fun yet? Or to make myself heard over the waves of worry and the swells of sorrow that deafened me to those who may have been trying to penetrate my own desperation-induced bubble.
I said earlier that there is nothing more invigorating than realizing that there is someone next to me, struggling beside me, someone to strengthen and be strengthened by. That may not be entirely true. Because almost as soon as I open my eyes to those around me and reach out to them in an effort to buoy them up, it becomes obvious that, even in my darkest distress, I was never alone. There always was someone on the shore, encouraging me. There always was someone letting me swim in His wake. And when I realize that, the waters I have been struggling through are suddenly manageable, shallow even. Because I know that just beneath them, there is a firm foundation on which I can rely.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never, forsake!
*The verses are from “How Firm a Foundation” by Robert Keen or John Keene or John Keith, depending on who you ask.