You might be surprised to learn that this delightful creature you see above has a quality I want to emulate. No, it’s not the jagged teeth (this fish obviously didn’t spend the most self-conscious of its teenage years wearing braces and get nicknamed ‘Metallica’ by its own mother) nor is it the pink mohawk, but rather, its ability to go deep without being crushed.
Life, like an over-eager swimming coach, seems to like pushing people in the deep end. My swimming coach pushed me in when I was about nine, so I couldn’t say the feeling was unfamiliar when Life did the same thing a few years later.
And there were times, to be sure, that I felt like I was going to be crushed by the pressure of difficulty, but, as speakers at youth camps are wont to point out, we have internal pressure that opposes the external pressure. When circumstances weigh down like the Atlantic Ocean on your back, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4b)
Ha! I am that deep-sea fish.
I love it when songwriters dare to go deep, to take the pressure, to wrestle with God like Jacob (Genesis 32) and come away with a limp but a new light in their eye (no, not at all like the light in the fish’s eye; stop getting distracted), when they dare to pray a prayer like ‘take my world apart if it’ll teach me to love you, God’.
so wipe away the crimson stains, and dull the nails that still remain,
so steal my heart and take the pain, take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide, take the beauty, take my tears,
this sin-soaked heart, make it yours…
take my world apart, take my world apart
(Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay)
Or when they dare to admit just how filthy are our rags of righteousness before God:
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle and I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home but I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle to you
(Wedding Dress by Derek Webb)
It’s not that I have a penchant for sad music. I have a theory that when Jesus said he was giving us ‘life in abundance’ he was saying we’d have the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, a good heaped serving of life, pressed down, shaken together, running over. I want to write songs like the ones above, unabashedly honest about our own sin, our inability to save ourselves, our undeniable suffering, but laced with redemption in the midst of pain, light greater than the darkness, hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of mourning, salvation despite our helplessness. It’s just that only when I admit how low I’ve been do I see the miracle of how high I’ve been lifted.
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morningand dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
C.S. Lewis said: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I don’t want to make mud pies or dip my toes in the little frothy waves, I want to go deep (Metaphorically, you understand; I have nightmares about sharks even here in Cambridge, miles from the sea) so I can say something deep. Or maybe just ‘look at all these pretty jellyfish. I hope they don’t get me.’