It was clear that a catastrophic life storm was headed my way with enough power to blow my whole world apart. As the dark clouds rolled in, I anxiously tried everything I knew to keep the storm at bay—fortifying myself against it, looking for a way to prevent it, praying for an escape route to avoid it.
But then I heard something that changed everything. A friend said to me, “I wish these things weren’t happening in your life, but it seems there’s no stopping it, and sometimes the only way out is through…”
I’d heard that phrase before—“Sometimes the only way out is through,”—but that day it shifted something in my heart and helped me see that a choice lay before me: I could keep trying to fearfully manage and avoid the approaching storm, or I could stand up straight, turn toward it, and face it head on as best I knew how. How much damage the storm would do depended on which choice I made.
Seeing these choices clearly laid before me helped me move away from fearfully begging for deliverance and move toward asking that God give me strength and walk with me, come what may.
When the storms of life come to our doorstep, our instinct is to fight or flee. But it’s useful to know that the instinct to flee can actually do us more harm than good. Running and hiding—like a rabbit running from a wolf—activates what we could call the “Prey Fleeing From Predator” emotional system. This response hyper-sensitizes us to fear, anxiety, and stress and actually magnifies the negative impact of our trauma.
However, if we face the storms head on, steadying ourselves as we take up our cross (voluntarily owning our own suffering) to follow Jesus (Lord of the storms) right into the heart of it, a different emotional system is activated that we could call the “Confronting Problems As The One Who Can Overcome Them” system, or maybe we could even call it the “2 Corinthians 2:14" system, where Paul assures us that God will “...always leads us in triumph in Christ Jesus.”
Trauma is mitigated as we recognize ourselves not as the prey/victim of our troubles, but instead as the one who is empowered to confront, learn from, and even overcome them. This sets the stage for our transformation, turning the catastrophe that might have destroyed us into a holy crucible that can refine us and make more of us than we were before.
Our posture makes all the difference. Same storm, but different outcome.
When I stop trying to avoid and control the storms of life, my crippling anxiety diminishes and in its place emerges a sense that I’m not alone and a resolve to move forward with the hope that even though there is so much to lose, there are also treasures to be gained.
There’s an ancient saying that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It’s only when I turn to face my storm head on that I am able to receive the strength, wisdom, and tenacity that I’ll need to face it.
The added bonus is that these virtues become a permanent part of me that come in handy when the next storm comes along.
Sometimes, facing everything all at once is more than we can manage. That’s okay. We can do it incrementally, with even the smallest of steps. By facing what we are able to face today, even just bit by bit, we will find strength gathering in us that in time can turn the tide. Faith the size of a mustard seed can indeed move mountains, and little by little we become stronger and can learn to overwhelm that which overwhelms us.
That old improv comedy rule of “yes, and” comes to mind. When the other actors on stage throw the story your way, you have to say “yes” to what is offered “and” then add your part to it. That’s the only way to keep the act moving forward. “Yes, but” and of course “no” stops the scene dead in its tracks. But “yes, and” means you accept what has come to you and choose to build on it.
The metaphor is obvious: our best bet for surviving the storms of life is by moving from anxious avoidance to expectant acceptance. From there we can build on our circumstances, trusting that the storm is what God uses to make us stronger than the storm.
Sometimes the only way out is through. But we can trust that we're not alone and look forward with great hope that new life is waiting for us on the other side.