When There Is No Going Back to the Life You Had Before

When There Is No Going Back to the Life You Had Before

Losing Your Ship without Losing Your Soul

Driven by God-knows-what kind of cocktail of nature and nurture, you build the ship you think you always wanted, board by board, or perhaps the ship someone else told you you ought to want. There’s relatively little time to think about such things during the massive ego-building project that comprises much of our lives. You rarely even search your pockets anymore to try to find your misplaced rea-sons. Because there is another paper due, because there is another diaper to change, because there is another plane to catch, because there is another function Friday night that you simply cannot miss. And so you keep on hammering those boards, because somebody has to hammer them; you do what you do, because it’s the only thing you know how to do; you keep going where you’ve always gone, because it’s the only way you know to go.

There is nothing particularly bad about the life you’ve built for yourself—except you’re not entirely sure if it’s your life you’re building, or why you’re building a life at all. The world you inhabit is a long way from perfect, but it is mostly ordered. The machines are purring along; the gears are (mostly) working; the soft rhythm of established routine is just enough white noise to drown out the sound of your soul’s longing, enough to help you get to sleep at night. So you can get up the next day and start it all over again, without stopping to ask why.

Until the day comes when your ship hits the rocks and you wake up to the violent sound of the sea pour- ing in through a hole in you. The world outside floods the insulated life you have inside, and the life you knew is now under water. Sometimes the storm crawls in slow and stealthy, catlike, until the first leak springs; sometimes the storm comes sudden, and a rushing mighty wind fills your house like some unholy ghost. It may be that the storm came outside of you and blew in the little sheet of paper on which the doctor wrote the diagnosis; or the tides dragged out the man or woman who said they’d love you forever; or you felt the air grow heavy with electric heat in the air between you on the phone when she said you lost the job. It may also well be it was you who steered straight into the rocks the ship that had kept you more or less afloat all these years—that you now hold yourself responsible for sabotaging the life you told yourself you wanted.

But it does not really matter how you got here or why; and it doesn’t really matter if it was God or the devil or your- self or some ancient chaos that spilled up from the bottom of the sea. What matters now is that you are drowning, and the world you loved before is not your world any longer. The questions of why and how are less pressing than the reality that is your lungs filling with water now. Philosophy and theology won’t help you much here, because what you believe existentially about storms or oceans or drowning won’t make you stop drowning. Religion won’t do you much good down here, because beliefs can’t keep you warm when you’re twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea.

There is nothing you can find in a book, including this one, that can overwhelm the hard truth you know in the five senses that will not deceive you. You see the unending blackness of a cold sea in front of you. You hear the sound of the bow—and of your own heart—snapping. You taste reality in the salt water burning in the back of your throat. You feel your blood turning to ice under the canopy of the long, arctic night.

The truth is something you already know deep in your own bones: Your ship is sinking. The life you lived before is the life you live no longer; the world you knew before is underwater now. Your life feels like a funeral, because there is a part of you that is actually dying.

There are things you are losing now that you won’t get back. There is a boy in you who may well be dying for you to become the man you must become now; there is a girl likely breathing her last so a more primal woman may rise to take her place.

The shipwreck is upon you. And there is no going back to the life you had. The waters that drown are the waters that save.


Taken from How to Survive a Shipwreck by Johnathan Martin. Copyright © 2016 by Johnathan Martin. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved. 

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