I was sixteen when my family vacationed in Cartageña, Columbia. The first evening, we strolled along the pristine beach, enjoying the brilliant sunset and roar of the ocean when we suddenly heard cries of help.
A man and two women frantically screamed as waves crashed over them, and the tide dragged them further from the shore. An Australian man tore off his shoes and dived into the ocean. He rescued the drowning man, and my dad saved one of the women. There were no lifeboats or lifeguards and tragically the third victim was too far into the ocean for anyone to reach. Powerless and horrified, we watched this helpless woman struggle against the surge until a final crest stole her away. It was heartbreaking.
Still in shock, we met the Australian man and his wife at the hotel restaurant the following morning. As we rehashed the tragedy, I recall the Australian telling us that he swam in the ocean daily. He warned us that powerful riptide could quickly pull a swimmer to their death. He added this advice: “If caught in a riptide never swim against the tide because you will tire quickly and be pulled into the sea. Instead, swim with the tide, parallel to the shore. It will save your strength, and you will eventually swim out of it.”
Recently my friend and I were commiserating on the slop bucket of difficulties that seems to have dumped into our lives. “Between my family’s issues, my problems at work, and my husband bad health I wonder if I have a target painted on my head!” she laughed, wiping away a tear.
Haven’t we all felt this way at one time or another? Of course, we don’t actually believe that an unknown force is out to get us. But it can be overwhelming when problems pile up. We can feel victimized over and again.
Let’s make the analogy that life is like a swim in the ocean. One moment you are frolicking in the sunshine filled with happiness, feeling that delightful high.
The next minute a riptide shows up. Maybe an uninsured, unemployed teenager smashed into your parked car. Perhaps in a heated moment (after a few glasses of wine), you told off your nasty sister-in-law, and now the family reunion is canceled because of you. Or, your company headquarters is moving to the bowels of New Jersey, and you just built your midwestern country dream home. Or, during your morning shower you felt a suspicious lump on your breast.
Whatever the difficulty, the riptide of complications has smacked you in the face and yanked you into a sea of gloom.
If caught in a riptide (or “sh%t- tide” as I sometimes call it) stop fighting. Instead, try the following:
- Rename the problem. Instead of calling it a “problem, disaster, nunchuk hell-hole” refer to it as a life challenge or test. Remember, a challenge is a dare born with the hope of success.
- Calm yourself. Stop mumbling “I am a loser.” Don’t smother your thinking with “Bad stuff always happens to me.” Accept that this challenge is your current situation. Find peace in knowing that you will deal with it to the best of you abilities.
- Brake on the blaming. Blaming is our misguided way of making sense of difficulties, but it doesn’t help us better cope or successfully navigate challenges. Blame diverts our path to a solution. Blame wastes time and energy. Save your energy for active coping.
- Reframe: How bad is it, really? Will it matter a year from now? When facing a streak of challenges, we can develop a disaster mindset that embellishes obstacles. Reframe the predicament. Decide what you will learn from this situation. During good times, we coast through life, but challenging times strengthen and teach us. How will these issues add richness to your life tapestry?
- Journal about your challenges. Journaling is a form of meditation, allowing you to step outside yourself and systematically piece through challenges. Detailed descriptions of the situation, will give you a sense of control and may prompt some creative solutions.
- Pray. You are called into this world. You are not alone on your journey. Prayer shares the load and thereby lightens it. Prayer changes challenges. Ask others to pray for you. Nothing is more powerful than prayer.
Life is filled with variety. Somedays life is great! Blue clouds paints the heavens, and the sea hums a lullaby. Then suddenly, the sky blackens, and an angry storm slams us with waves of challenges.
Have faith that no storm will last forever and beyond the clouds lies your rainbow.