My family and I have a long tradition of going on vacation to the same place in Michigan: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. It is a magical place with tall sandy dunes, beautiful vistas of nearby islands, the vastness of the deep blue lake, and the azure skies overhead. It is breathtaking!
The beauty of Lake Michigan doesn’t come without the hidden dangers of its waters. All along the shores of this magnificent lake lie stories of rough storms, sunken ships, and treacherous shoals. Enter any Lake Michigan Maritime Museum and you will see a map with all the sunken ships in that area.
We love to swim in Lake Michigan, but you have to know when it is safe to swim and obey the coastguard warnings. The main problem for swimmers in the lake is the rip current. It is a current that occurs where the water flows away from the shore, like a river within the lake. Rip currents do not pull you under, and they are survivable if you know how to navigate them. Most people, if caught in a rip current, will panic and try to swim back to shore directly against the current. This is where they get into trouble—the current can move up to 8 feet per second, which not even an Olympic swimmer can outswim. What you need to do instead is relax, let the current take you with it and when you can, swim out of it parallel to the shore back to the safety of the beach.
In our previous blog, Maryanne wrote about how change can be like the constant coming in and going out of waves on the beach. Other times, change can feel like a rip current—coming seemingly out of nowhere, catching us unawares, and taking us with it. How many times have you been faced with a sudden, big change like that? A difficult diagnosis, an accident, unexpected news, a tornado, a collapsed building, etc. can be like a rip current we have no idea how to survive. We try to swim against it, fighting the change tooth and nail, hoping for a break, yet we are not strong enough to get back to shore.
What if we took the lessons of how to survive a rip current and applied them here? The first step would be to relax into it, float, or tread the waters of change by allowing them to take you away with them. Don’t deny your pain or grief, let yourself feel it and be in it. Allow these feelings to take you and teach you what they have to teach. Do the hard work of grieving, adjusting, and figuring out a new normal. Also, remember that you are never alone. Allow yourself to be carried by others and by God, who can support you through the process. Find the help you need—support groups, therapists, grief groups, clergy, or Stephen ministers can be a wonderful source of support and strength. They offer the kind of unconditional listening and care that can be so healing! We are not meant to do this thing called life alone.
When you find that the current of change has lost its pull, you will have the strength to swim out of it and get back to the safety of the shore. You will be changed by the experience, and perhaps your edges will look a bit less sharp because of the waves. And one day, you may find that you are there for someone else who has been caught in a rip current, offering them a listening ear, caring for them, and supporting them until they are able to swim out of the current and back to the shore.
What do you find helpful as you deal with life’s big changes?
Where do you find your support system?
How has going through a big change altered you?
What support can you offer others as they deal with major changes?