Friday, July 4, 2008

Water, water, everywhere

One of my very favorite TV shows is Man vs. Wild, hosted by Bear Grylls.

If you've never seen it, Bear is a survival expert who shows what to do if you'd ever find yourself lost in the jungle, desert, or frozen tundra. You never know, right?

The premise of his show puts him in the most inhospitable ("unforgiving") environments on earth to show how to safely eat, drink, and find a way to civilization alive. He is usually either swimming through icy rivers or eating scorpions straight from the sand. The extreme wastelands of this world, where no life can survive, are the places he chooses to go.

Tonight Mike and I watched the one where Bear goes to Namibia, Africa. The show opens with Bear standing on the side of a helicopter that's flying out to sea. Yelling to be heard over the whir of the chopper, he casually shares introductory remarks with the camera and then does a backflip straight into the water off the "Skeleton Coast." Right before he lets go, he says that sailors have nicknamed this place "The Gates of Hell."

When he finally stumbles on shore, it's easy to see why this "Skeleton Coast" is so formidable. Carcasses of ships and animals lie scattered over the sand. Bear's first priority is to find a source of water to avoid dehydration.

As the waves crash on shore behind Bear, I listened to him explain that sea water, although abundant in supply, is deadly for anyone who yields to the temptation to drink it. "Whoever drinks it will just crave more and more," he said. He then set up an elaborate distillation pit, which ultimately only gave him about an inch of fresh water to slurp down. It seemed ironic for him to work hard for that inch of fresh water when he had an entire ocean behind him.

In my spiritual desert right now, I feel like all around me are temptations to relieve my thirst for deliverance, joy, peace, hope, and love. At my fingertips, I can go on the Internet and browse for hours-- soaking up emails, playing games, posting profile info, instant messaging, looking at "stuff" in online stores, reading advice from worldly people. This vain search for peace and joy can take hours, and after I'm done, I have nothing to show for my time but an even bigger void inside of me, crying out to be filled.

Similarly, I can watch sitcoms when I'm up late at night, scared, wondering about my family's future and trying to numb the worries with canned laughter. I'm a professional. I've looked everywhere for just the right things/people to soothe the emptiness, the disappointment, the ongoing sorrow. Just a respite from reality-- that's all I'm looking for.

I speak from experience: None of it works. In fact, it makes me want more. One more show, one more minute here on this site. One more hour working on this project, reading this book, researching this idea, emailing this person. After drinking up an evening of salty distractions, my thirst is almost unbearable.

This is what the LORD says:

"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6

When I'm in pain and I look inward, or worse, outward for a worldly fix, I feel instant soothing, but later such a terrible ache inside. The good feelings are shallow and they never last. If I ignore my spiritual needs long enough, my ache can almost grow physical. My soul is an empty, dry place like Namibia when my focus is on soothing myself. I ultimately only increase the void.

I rarely talk about why I'm in such pain or what exactly my family is going through. It's a defense mechanism because I've been badly burned by confessing the truth of what is happening to people I trusted. Our trial is highly unusual and mind blowing, and some days I stop and just say to God, "How can this really be happening to us?" In a previous post, I explained briefly about how we have been targeted by a group of criminals. The crimes committed against us are intended to be bizarre and unbelievable so that we become more isolated, terrified, and made to look "crazy." This type of crime is not highly publicized, but it does happen and is called "gang stalking" or "community-based harassment." Getting untangled from this nightmare is going to be by God's miraculous hand alone. Our ongoing human efforts have not saved us, only put a Band-Aid on a gangrenous wound, allowing us to limp along day to day.

Because of this, I have felt angry at God, hurt, wounded, like I can't trust him. When God doesn't respond to my prayers for help, it's tempting to give up seeking Him. It's all too easy to turn away and see the pleasures of this world as an escape from my pain-- as a delightful diversionary drink from an inexhaustible ocean of instant gratification.

How many of us are spiritually dehydrated from drinking what the world has to offer?

I think I should raise my hand here. I've always done it, but in the heat of trial, I can feel the effects faster and more intensely than at any other time in my life.

Coincidentally, my health condition (dysautonomia) has my body in a chronic state of physical dehydration. If you see me out anywhere, I probably am toting a tall bottle that says "Smart Water" on it. (It doesn't make me smarter.) My body needs this water constantly to keep my blood volume at a normal level. If I don't continuously drink water, my blood pressure drops, and my heart races in futility to rescue my brain from impending loss of consciousness. Heat makes this happen much faster.

I know how to fight my physical dehydration, but how can I fight against the temptation to succumb to spiritual dehydration?

Something tells me that, like David, since I can't avoid the "heat" of trials, I need to be drinking more and more of God's refreshing Word all the time. When David's soul felt downcast and disturbed, he didn't turn aside to the distractions of this world. He sought the face of God. He willed himself to put his hope in God.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2

David knew that in his time of danger and being targeted by Saul's men, the only one who would quench his thirst and save him was God alone.

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8

Withered by the heat of my trials, I need to remember that how I respond will determine whether I end up dehydrated and weak, or fruitful and strong. It all depends on what water I choose to drink when the heat is on and my soul is parched:

Will I keep seeking fulfillment in the ocean of the world's salty pleasures...or will I put forth the extra effort to reach over and over for the cup of God's pure, quenching Word?

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