You’re Still Here
The first things overboard when your ship wrecked were all the reasons you ever had for sailing. And when the life you knew is a life you know no longer, and the ship that took you on a thousand adventures before can no longer even keep you afloat, you are right to wonder if there is anything left worth having.
There used to be so many things that we could not live without! How could you live without this person? How could you live without this job? How could you live without this relationship? How could you live without this house? How could you live without your dignity? How could you live without your good reputation? And then death came to someone you loved, or you lost the job, or you sabotaged the relationship or felt your love sabotaged you, or you suffered public humiliation, or you lost your all-important sense of honor. And you thought you really would die.
There was a part of you, maybe even a really large part of you, that really did. There are some losses that in their way mark you forever, and some things you never get over. And because you loved this person or this life and career you built, or valued your dignity, when the bow broke, everything in you screamed. While the sails were ripping and the boards splitting, you heard the sound of your spirit dying. The life you had was over. But to your own shame, you were not over, as much as you may have wanted to be.
Maybe like a proud samurai, it seemed the best thing you could do on the other side of the shipwreck was to fall on your own sword and stage a protest against anything you once found beautiful. Because you were so sad. Because you were so guilty. Because you were so scared that in the loss of something outside yourself, you lost your own heart to the sea’s black rage.
And then came what might be the worst discovery: You didn’t die — not really. You walked away from the accident, whether or not you think you or God or the devil or the fates are somehow responsible for it. You just knew you would die, and at times it felt like something in you did.
But not you. Not all of you, anyway.
The ship may have gone down, but miracle of miracles, you’re still here.
Can you remember the first time after the funeral, after you could not bear to eat or drink, that the pangs of hunger overwhelmed you? Did you feel incredulous at yourself, at the animal part of you that still wanted food after such a thing? What about when there was a particular taste you wanted, because it was a taste that on some level you actually desired? However much fog, however much sorrow, however much grief — the experience of loss may have altered your taste buds forever. But it hardly killed them.
You watched dreams you cradled in your arms with the strength of all your tenderness descend into the sea. All that animated you, all that moved you before, could move you forward in the world no longer. The water filled your mouth and your nostrils, and you choked at the taste of it. But when the grief or the guilt or the loss recedes into the night and your soul sets sail again, you still dream — despite yourself. There is still a kind of music you will hear that stirs within you an unspeakable longing. There is still an ache, not just for all you lost, but to see and know and be seen and known still, to explore and imagine and create.
However much the longing for the past may assault your senses, it is not the only longing that remains. There is still a part of you that wants to make love, to feel yourself somehow connected. There is still a part of you that yearns for something outside yourself. You felt yourself out to sea, and yet some kind of desire, for something or another, bears you along, and you find yourself still somehow here — almost against your own wishes. And even in the moments when anything that felt like conscious desire went out with the tide, there is still some kind of near-morbid curiosity of how your life and story are going to turn out — even if you are lost enough to only behold what’s left of your life as a kind of bystander.
Somewhere between your body’s animal refusal to go down quietly, your mind’s refusal to stop imagining, and your heart’s refusal to stop dreaming, in the tangled mess of synapses and memories and impulses, there lies God.
In whatever remains in you that wants to create, to make, to birth something new, in whatever corner that longs for some kind of resurrection on the other side of death, something divine quietly snaps, fires, clicks, flickers. This is the Spirit of God, lurking in your own broken spirit.
You may find that your grief and sense of loss over the world you once knew seem endless. And yet there are possibilities and potentialities within you that are more endless still.
What is this unseen force that carries you forward despite yourself? Why can you not seem to choke, always and forever, your own irrational yearning, this buried but still breathing hope for more?
This ache is God’s fingerprint.
The stirring to create, to love, to live, to give of yourself when there is no self left to give — this comes from the Spirit.
You were created in the image of God. Before you knew anyone or did anything, everything was in you necessary to live at home in divine love. However buried that image of God is within you, that part of you that knows what it is to be perfectly loved, held, and known — it is still very much there. There is a part of you that does not need anything else, or anyone else in particular, to be alive. There is a part of you that knows this — part of you that has always known this — but has long since forgotten.
The God who sustains all created things with love sustains you. The God who created the world not to be exploited, dominated, or needed, but to love and to enjoy without clinging, is awake in your belly. And so in you is the capacity to love and to live without needing the world to work out a certain way in order for you to be okay. Your life, your existence, is contingent on that Spirit. But it is not contingent on anyone else, or anything else.
This is the liberating, terrifying discovery of life on the other side of the shipwreck. That while you are a creature — humble, dependent, small, in need of love and food and Shelter — you didn’t need anything else as much as you thought you did. That the things you knew would kill you don’t actually kill you. That the fire in you the sea should have drowned out, burns within you yet, if you do not let yourself smother it (and maybe even if you do). So much of the world you have known is no more. But if there is any truth in any of this at all, the shipwreck that threatened to destroy you utterly may be the thing that saves you yet. It may not drown you; it may transfigure you.
And if there is something truthful, something larger, about this irrational lust for life that is forged in the fires of death, it says something too about the people you lost. For if there is a God who not only creates but sustains and resurrects, then there can yet be life on the other side of death for all things. Then there is hope, not only for the yearning in you to drive you into union with God, but to be realized in union with those others. If death is not the final word, and chaos produces creation rather than destroys it, then many of the stories of the life you thought were long over are far from over yet.
Believing this won’t mean you won’t still feel the weight of deep, sharp, piercing grief, or that you should feel guilty when you do. On the contrary, people who don’t experience deep pain have not experienced deep love and are not to be envied. That doesn’t mean they are shallow — all of our souls surely have something of the same depths — they just may not be aware of their own yet. That day will come for them. But when you feel your own deep capacity for passion, compassion, mourning, even rage, you are glimpsing something of your soul’s own infinite capacity to know, to feel, and to become. Within the depths of all you feel the most deeply, something of the Spirit’s own immortal depths is reflected in you.
We have a capacity for love and hope and beauty seemingly too big for our heads and hearts, because we are created in the image of God.
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Excerpted with permission from How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin, copyright Jonathan Martin.
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If you’ve survived a shipwreck in your life — an unwanted divorce, the death of someone dear, the end of a career, any profound loss — you’ve likely wondered how on earth you could possibly continue on in the face of such grief. Did you discover that there can yet be life on the other side of that death? How did God show Himself to you in that season? Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily