Oceans: On Worry and Fear... And Trust.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Your grace abounds in deepest waters; Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You've never failed, and You won't start now.

So I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine."

-- Hillsong United, "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"

I'm pretty good at worrying.  In fact, if Worrying had been the name of a class back in college, I'm sure I'd have aced it no problem.  We wouldn't have had to take any tests or write any papers in Worrying.  We'd just have to worry about them: how would we have found the time to read everything or research pertinent information for essays?  Would the amount or kind of material we studied in preparation for the test actually be enough?  Would we be able to remember it all?  I can picture a lecture hall full of students like me furrowing their brows with immense, concentrated concern, and gripping their pencils tightly at the mere thought of it all, worrying, worrying, worrying.

Now that sounds at least a little bit ridiculous, doesn't it?  All that worrying, instead of just doing whatever the dreaded thing happens to be?

We worry because it makes us feel like we have some degree of control over the things that really aren't up to us; it has a weird way of making us feel like we're doing something productive, even when the only thing the feeling is producing for us is a nervous tangle of emotional wires in our bodies, capable of sparking or fraying at even the tiniest assumed confirmation of our fears.  We worry because it makes us think we're planning for the worst, which we believe is a good thing.  You wouldn't refuse to partake in an earthquake drill if you lived near the San Andreas Fault, would you?  It's good to have a plan.

But too often we don't stop at the guardrail we call a "plan."  Too often we blast through it and careen around the corners of Worst-Case Cliffs, screaming so frenziedly that we lose control of our little cars of mental sanity and eventually just plummet into Worry Abyss.  Now, this is a surefire way of crashing your little mental sanity car, and you'll also find that once you fall into the abyss... well, good luck getting out again.

So that's the last time I'll use abyss imagery.  I like the one Hillsong uses -- of oceans -- much better.

As a born and raised Catholic, and a product of 16 years of Catholic education, I would say I'm a pretty religious person.  My faith is what helps me make sense of the world when human reason alone won't suffice, and it's what has inspired me to try my best to always look at the world from a place of profound love and abiding hope.  It's true for me that the process of trusting and overcoming worry and fear starts with letting go and letting God.

But what does that mean, exactly?  Well, first of all, I call it a process because I have by no means mastered this.  I'm a worrier, remember?  Trusting is a daily decision to do what I can and to try not to worry while I let God take over where I can't.  It's baby steps.

Years of studying Catholic theology have taught me that God doesn't want to see any of His children brokenhearted or in pain.  I know this seems contradictory to those who would retaliate with the question of why there is so much suffering in this world, and I don't have an answer for that.  Even priests who have dedicated their lives to the study of scripture can only seem to offer free will and human sin as explanations, but that's a topic for another post.  My point is that if I know God is compassionate and loving, and that He has a plan for my life, why wouldn't I want Him to help me out more often?

That's what's so beautiful about "Oceans" by Hillsong.  I know it's been at the top of the Christian charts for years now, but I first heard it only about a year ago, when we sang it in choir during the first Mass of the school year at USD.  Nine months later, at my penultimate Mass as a USD student, we sang it again and for the first time, I finally thought I understood what it meant -- all those words about going out "upon the waters, the great unknown, where feet may fail."  The relevance of this for me as a soon-to-be graduate, making my way independently in the world for the first time, hit me hard.

But not as hard as it did two weeks ago, on a Sunday night just before the end of my publishing program at the University of Denver, when I was attending Mass at a little church just down the street and praying hard about which direction I should take my life in.  Where should I live?  What jobs should I be applying for, and more to the point, Will anyone respond to the dozens of resumes and cover letters I've been sending out?  Will I get a job I actually enjoy, or a drudgery that just pays the bills?  There are so many options, but I don't know which way to go!  Which way do I go??  I was growing a little weary of God's "mysterious ways" at this point, and I prayed for some kind of definitive sign, a substantial prod in the direction I needed to move.  And I was scared.

Then at Communion, the cantor started to sing "Oceans."  The homesickness I was feeling for my choir and chapel community back at USD, combined with the uncertainty I'd been encountering about the next steps in my life, walloped my heart and left me very close to tears in the pew where I knelt (and by "very close to tears," I mean I tried, valiantly and unsuccessfully, to stifle the sniffs I was pretty sure didn't go unnoticed by everyone around me.  At least they were all polite enough not to say anything to me about my little breakdown).

What God was saying to me in that moment, in the song I'd heard and sang and loved so fondly, was this:


I think one of the biggest misconceptions recent graduates carry with them into their adult lives is that they have to have everything figured out as soon as they move the tassel to the other side of their graduation caps.  I don't know where this myth started, but it's time we put an end to it, because it puts an undue amount of stress on students these days.  My aunt once told me, "Really, the whole rest of your life after college, day after day, is just 'figuring it out,' deciding where you want to go next."

My point is that you and I, we don't need to have anything "all figured out."  That's for God.  Our task is just to take the first step.  Walk boldly into the unknown, into the fear.  Do what we can.  Then let God take our hands and guide us the rest of the way, to lead us where we need to go, because He knows what's in our hearts and what we need our lives to be to maximize our growth and the gifts we give to others, much more so than we do.  That's not to say we don't have any personal freedom, or shouldn't assume individual responsibility for what we do with our lives, or that we're passive participants.  I just mean that there's only so much that we as humans can do at any given moment, with our skills and the experiences we've had, to keep moving forward.  And we should absolutely do those things.  When we've done that, we've left room for God to jump in... and that's where the magic happens.

Last week, for example, I was nervous about a networking event because I'm an introvert who can't think of many things that freak me out more than a room full of strangers I'm supposed to converse with and wow with my intelligence and wit.  Knowing this about myself, however, I decided before I left that if I had one or two quality conversations during the time I was there, then it would have been worthwhile.  But that didn't stop me from calling my mom anyway and saying that I felt weird and uncertain and nervous about how the whole thing would pan out.  She told me to go anyway.

So I did.  And you know what?  Not only did I meet two very nice people that night, but I even got the chance to trade business cards with someone!  Now, I know it's unlikely I'll get my dream job with that company, or even a job, as it was very small and the skeptic in me is convinced my card has already got lost and forgotten on this person's desk.  But as silly as it sounds, this networking event was just one tiny example of the "great unknown, where feet may fail."  Of something of which I was uncertain and scared.

And it worked out okay!  More than okay!  I talked to people!  I got a business card!

I stepped out on faith, and God met me there.  He didn't let me drown.

Life is full of the unknown.  All we have to do is have faith... and keep walking.

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