Before I write the rest of this post, I have to get something out of the way.
It is woefully ridiculous that I am using this particular analogy.
I would never, NEVER jump out of an airplane with a parachute. (Barring, of course, some unforeseen compulsion by a killer who is holding my children hostage, or a zillionaire who offers me millions of dollars.....) (The first scenario is far more likely to compel me than the second...)
Do you know what I mean, though, when I talk about being in a free fall? Something that puts you in a complete and utter panic. Something that makes you feel powerless, out-of-control, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, alone. Most of all, afraid. Terrified, even.
.....I have things like that.
Financial burdens, relationship failures or serious tensions, medical issues, death, children living in disobedience, unemployment...... these are all situations that can throw us into a free fall.
For me, being in a free fall means it's hard to focus on the rest of life. I have a hard time eating or sleeping. It feels like there's constant chaos inside my head. I can't just be. I'm antsy, jittery, discontent, constantly searching for a solution that will satisfy the overpowering fear in my heart and allow me to have some respite.
There is a solution. And it's simple.
......simple, but not easy.
I mean, we're talking about peace during the free fall. Not peace after your chute's opened like it's supposed to, and you're close enough to the ground that you're pretty sure you won't end up as pulp. I imagine free fall being more like the chaos in my head- loud, out-of-control, overwhelming, dissonant, scary. All-encompassing.
The (short version) simple answer is this: take a deep breath and do the next right thing. The VERY next right thing.
Here's the long version....
God is in control:
Psalm 16:5 says "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure." Everything that we have to deal with is assigned by God. I don't say that callously or flippantly. I have been in situations that were horrible, unfair, not to be understood. And I know there are some of you that are immersed in things that I couldn't even fathom. I get that. I feel the weight of that.
...and yet still, I believe that God is in control. That He makes our lot secure. Ultimately, there is nothing we can lose that can't be restored on the other side of eternity. I know that does little to lessen the pain and struggle of loss and trials right now. But sometimes, the hope we have is this- whatever we are experiencing is finite, temporary (even if temporary seems like a long, long time). That is enough to help us take a deep breath, know that the creator of the universe is in control, and, eventually, we will be ok. Whatever that means. However that gets worked out. Our job isn't to work it all out, our job is to obey and have faith.
Accept your limits:
I like to be on top things. (That is a very polite way of saying I like to be in control of things). But guess what? I'm not in control of everything. Sometimes it seems as though I am in control of nothing. When I am in a free fall, not having control feels AWFUL!! I feel like I want to do anything within my power to gain some portion of control.
This is what I've learned- there's some times in life when I am not going to have control over a situation. Accepting that helps me deal with the trial in peace and contentment. Instead of exhausting myself by trying to imagine ways in which I can gain control, my energy is sometimes better spent figuring out how exactly I can best obey God's will for me in the midst of the circumstance. I can then turn my focus to myself- my attitude, my actions, by thoughts, and make them obedient. By doing that, I AM in control. No matter what the external situation in, I can still be in control of my response, my path.
Stay in the present:
Let's say you're in a free fall. You need to focus on the very next right thing. If you expend too much effort planning your landing strategy, and forget to pull your rip cord....uuhhh.... that's not going to work out so well. To use another analogy, that's why I LOVE trail running. When you're on mountain trails, there are a ton of rocks, roots, debris that you have to run through. You have to, each step, look and find the right spot to put your foot. That takes all your focus. (I know this, because when I try and chat, or look that the view, I fall down. Ugh.) The thing I love about that, is that it FREES me. All I am ABLE to think about is where my next step will go. I HAVE to do that for my own self-preservation. I can't dwell on other things. Having a single, focused purpose is so amazingly liberating. Calming. Restorative.
Sometimes we get into situations that are complicated. Problems that, despite our best efforts, we cannot see where we can go from here, or how the solution will come. We can look to the past and try and see how we got there. We can look to the future and do mental gymnastics trying to figure out how we will get OUT of the hard spot.
....that is exhausting. And, most often, not really helpful. Sometimes counter-productive. Because, while pressing forward to the future is beneficial and God-ordained, I believe we do that by making right choices in the here-and-now, the present. By being singular in our focus. God says, in Philippians 3:13,14 "But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." We are pressing forward, not to a set of specific solutions that we have pre-figured out, but to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.That one purpose. We are pressing forward in obedience, being thankful for the hope and future that Christ provided for us. A future that is perfect and secure. Even if our "right now" isn't.
Fake it 'till you make it:
I am just going to tell you, this WORKS. But is is HARD.
Emotions are not a good indicator of how we should act. Emotions change, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute. If our emotions are the driving force for our actions, well, that makes for a very tumultuous existence.
After taking the time to think through how to best obey God in a certain situation, we often (almost always) face the daunting, unpleasant task of beginning the path of "doing the next right thing" in complete contrast to our emotions. Likely in opposition to our sense of self-preservation. Usually in a direction that takes us out of our comfort zone. I am going to tell you the secret to accomplishing this.
Suck it up. Do it. The feeling will come.
Sorry. There's no magic that makes it feel better. But it will feel better. The route of obedience leads directly to peace. I don't know how that happens. I just know that it DOES. A switch flips after a while. But there's a lag time, a time in which you will feel afraid, uncomfortable, like you're using an eyedropper to fill a chasm. I promise you, with all that I've experienced, that feeling goes away.
Do the NEXT right thing. Take a deep breath. Do it again. Find people who will encourage you in this venture. Focus on what YOU are supposed to be doing. Not on how unfair the situation is. Not on someone else isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing. Not on how so-and-so has it so much easier. Doing the next right thing takes effort. Don't waste your energy on thoughts that take you away from your goal.
When the peace comes, be thankful for the Provider:
Don't forget, after you're out of the free fall, how bad you thought it was and how you were brought through it. Remembering God's provision and help to us in the fiery trials of life gives us hope for the next round- but only if we remember His hand in our lives. For some people, journals provide this reminder. I like keeping track of God's provision in journal form. I also have a pile of "remembrance stones" on my front porch- each painted with a reminder of God's provision for myself and some of my close friends..... something like that can be an aid to help us. To remind us to get back into the place of trust and obedience when we face circumstances that throw us, again, into a free fall. God is good. He truly helps us and loves us. Remembering that is key to staying focused and not getting sucked into a hopeless pit.
After you're back on the ground, you have a responsibility- to use the things God has taught you to live differently. This is good news. God shapes us through trials. In a wonderful way. He gives us tools and means that we didn't have before. He equips us. Be mindful of that, and walk in the strength of it. You survived a free fall. That is an amazing thing.
....It seems fitting to end with one of my favorite quotes from Elisabeth Elliot is this: "The secret is Christ in me, not a different set of circumstances."