It was a glaring hot day at the beach one summer afternoon and my dad and I were catching our breath sitting on the sandy towels and shielding our eyes from the sun’s sparkling brightness catching on every wave that rolled in. We started people watching and making comments about the different ways people reacted to the waves. It was windy that day. The water was whipped up into a frenzy of ocean waves that came crashing down with a bold and fierce gusto and then whispered to a stop around the toes of toddles digging on the shore – soft and white in the form of harmless foam.
It was fascinating to see how some of the people tried to outrun the waves when they towered up unexpectedly – often get caught up in its barrel roll or swept off their feet in the crash. Other braver souls faced the waves with glee as they formed and dove right into them. Again and again we watched as these seal-like swimmers would dive into a wave and come right through to the other side unscathed, looking eagerly for the next wave to come. Some would do this over and over again. Face a wave and dive through it, face and dive through, and each wave taking them out farther out into deeper, calmer areas of the ocean.
I remember that day because we noticed a life principle at work in the people’s reactions to the waves. When faced with conflict or difficulties or obstacles, you could either try to run away from them – avoiding immediate contact and the unpleasant consequences that could follow or you could run toward them and dive through them, embracing the experience head-on. That day on the beach I remember commenting to my dad, “so the only way out is through.” It was true. There was no escaping the waves that day. If you were going to be out in the ocean at all, you had to decide how you were going to deal with the waves.
Watching from the shore it seemed far better to face the waves early on than to try to avoid its impact while the wave only gains in momentum and speed.
But how often do I act on such wisdom trying this principle out in ‘real life’ scenarios though? How often I try to take the easy way out, thinking that I can somehow avoid the impact of pain or discomfort in life. We all run instinctively from pain – even those natural, good-for-you pains. I have a 101 ready excuses to help me avoid the disorienting pain of getting up early in the morning, the joint pain of jogging a few miles at the park, and the humiliating pain of trying something new and being awkwardly bad at it.
One night here recently, my dad and I spent another afternoon together – this time watching a movie called, “The Way”. It is about a father who goes on a pilgrimage called the “Camino de Santiago” (The Way of St. James) in honor of his son who died on the same pilgrimage a few weeks earlier. In the story, the father is shocked by the news of his son’s death, but he does not shy away from the grief that threatens to engulf him nor the experiences offered to him through the tragedy of losing his son. He embraces the journey (very literally). He decides to stop his whole life schedule to go on this pilgrimage. It is through the journey along “the way” that he grieves the death of his son and gains a new appreciation for his life. It is the journey through-something-difficult that changes us forever. We can never grow into all we are meant to be if we spend our lives in hiding – avoiding the impact of those “through” moments.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” To walk in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk to the foot of the cross and through-death-of-self with Him on the cross. We miss the life-transforming power of the cross if we merely come to the outskirts and watch the way of the cross from afar, standing as a spectator among the crowds. To know the power of Christ is to walk the way of Christ – the way of picking up your cross and walking through-death-of-our-self-preoccupation to the life of liberty He gives on the other side of that way that separates us from our former selves and our old lives. The waters of baptism pictures this truth so well. We cannot escape the water if we are to be cleansed. We must go through the burial of the old self before there is space for the growth of a new self walking in the way of Jesus.
There is no way no true “out” in this life. No way that we can choose which will avoid all risk or trouble or grief. No one lives a “pain-free” life. But there is always a way through we can choose. A way that embraces the gift of both the blessings of delight and the blessings that come with heartache and difficulties and struggle in our lives.
Living this way challenges us to examine what are the areas in our lives we have we been avoiding because of the pain or conflict we fear. This way of living asks us what it would look like to step forward, face that wave head-on knowing we are held by Someone greater than any death we fear and dive joyfully in!
He will carry us through the waters and will meet us with joy on the other side…
“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” ~Hebrews 12