My childish delight in viewing these computer-generated fables is actually a bit legendary among my seven Grands.
One of my all-time favorites is a fish tale called Finding Nemo. The story is an epic saga about a little lost clown fish (Nemo) whose father (Marlin) swims the breadth of the ocean to find and be reunited with him in Australia.
The desperate father finds a hapless companion for the journey. She is a memory-challenged regal tang named Dory–hilariously voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory isn’t the brightest fish in the sea. But what she lacks in genius she makes up for in joy.
In one scene when Marlin is terribly discouraged and ready to give up, Dory starts singing to him “just keep swimming; just keep swimming; just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
It’s one of those earworms you hear and then you’re stuck with it for a while. But then, anyone who has seen the movie is already experiencing that. Sorry.
Dory was right, though.
There are many times in the realities and routines of living when the only thing to do is just keep swimming. It may be upstream, against the tide, into the waves…but it is the only way forward.
I thought about this in recent days as I reflected on what some of my friends are going through:
- A wonderful mentor whose life is characterized by integrity and joy is fighting the effects of an inoperable brain tumor.
- A devoted young mother who lost her dynamic husband to cancer and is left to raise teenage daughters alone.
- A former musical colleague who while reveling in being grandpa lost a grandchild in a tragic accident.
- A young man battling to overcome mistakes of the past who seems to repeatedly get the rug pulled out from under his feet.
- An old man in a nursing home facing what he’s lost and struggling for meaning in what remains of his life.
And then, there’s my mother-in-law. At nearly 98 years Myrtle is facing end-of-life issues in a body that is winding down daily. But she still has to get up and get through another day where it hurts all over and she wonders what to do.
Each of these circumstances press me back to a rudimentary principle of living a full life in an empty world:
Show up. Yep, that’s it.
Sometimes the most powerful act of spiritual and psychological warfare you can perform is to get up off the mat and face another round.
My short list of friends in the throes of unspeakable struggles that swamp the soul with discouragement and rob the heart of desire are probably being replicated in your circle. You know people in raging battles too…or maybe, you are one.
Life is replete with seasons where giving up seems the easiest and most logical course of action. Slumping under life’s juniper tree in a Jonah-like depression anxious to see an end to it all is not unfathomable to the broken heart of a weary warrior. (Jonah 4:5-6)
I have been there on more than one occasion. Prolonged illness. Utter failure. Shattering heart-break. Indescribable loss. Deep disappointment. Searing loneliness.
But for those of us who believe this life is not all there is, quitting is not an option.
We…just keep swimming.
The writers of the Ancient Book had a word for it: Perseverance.
Perseverance is that passionate patience that refuses to believe the current struggle is God’s opinion of me.
It is a deep conviction at the root of my being that God is both strong and loving. Whatever I am passing through is ultimately going to be used not only for my greater good, but for His bigger story.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4, MSG)
Perseverance is me following God’s whispers in the dark. It is that stickiness of soul that constantly causes the enemy to look up and say, “Crap, not you again!”
Perseverance demonstrates what I believe about:
- The past: it is over. This allows me to embrace the love of God. He has good intentions toward me, deep affection for me and intense passion about me. His heart is on fire for my life.
- The present: it is passing. This allows me to trust the heart of God. He is with me; for me. On my side. His faithfulness is boundless to my life.
- The future: there is hope. This allows me to believe the plan of God. He has a work for me to do, an impact for me to make, a legacy for me to leave. His purpose is established for my life.
Perseverance absolutely will not give pain the last word. It refuses to let the enemy of my soul spin the story no matter the details. It waits in alert expectancy for the Father to show His hand.
But how do I keep swimming when it’s upstream into a flood tide?
Very simply: I remember that I am not alone.
My effort in moments of agonizing struggle does not come from a nearly empty well of self-sufficiency, self-discipline or self-motivation. It comes from the One who is with me…and who is greater than anything I face in this world.
Beside. Before. Beneath. Behind.
But most of all…within.
“Strip down, start running—and never quit! …Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.” (Hebrews 12:1, MSG)
You may think it is trite or I am silly to cling to the meandering song of an animated fish.
But in the chaotic floods of life when I am swamped with despair and gasping for air, the greatest win I can mark up is when I just keep swimming.