Updated: Oct 5
By Katie Skurja
…all your waves and your billows have gone over me… - Psalm 42:7
I could barely keep my head above water. The wind and waves were crashing over my head. The more I struggled to catch a breath, the more I seemed to be taking in water.
Lord, where are you? I cried out. But I could hear nothing above the raging storm.
I prayed the paradox prayers that had helped me in so many dark situations: Even though I am drowning, I am loved and accepted by God. Even though I am drowning, I will love and accept myself. Even though I am drowning, I will trust you, Lord.
For a brief second, I heard a quiet voice. Let go.
Not only could I not tell where it was coming from, but it didn't make sense. Let go? What the heck? That did not make sense at all. I am supposed to just drown out here?
Again, I prayed the paradox prayers and again I heard the voice. Let go.
This time, I sensed the voice coming from below me. I looked down and saw the Lord resting on the floor of the riverbed, beckoning me below. How, Lord? How am I supposed to let go? How do I get to you? Why don't you pull me out of this mess?
Let go. Trust me.
Exhaling, I stopped fighting and let myself go limp. The water engulfed me and the storm quieted. Peace. I looked up and saw the storm raging above me. When I focused on it, I began to raise back up to the choppy waters, choking and gasping. I was overwhelmed once again with all the worries. I couldn't keep my head above water once again.
Let go. Trust me.
Letting myself sink into the water, I drifted down into the Lord's arms. The wind and waves were calm. In his arms, there was peace and quiet.
How, Lord? How can I stay here with you, under water? Why am I not drowning?
Am I not bigger than your troubles? Am I stronger than the seas? With me, you are safe.
My heart quieted to a resting pace. Warmth enveloped me. Curled up in the Lord's arms, I drifted back to sleep.
In the coming weeks, as I weathered the storms of that time, I frequently returned to my sanctuary under the water. During my times of meditative prayer, I discovered something amazing. Not only is the darkness light to him, but also the water is like air to him. In that painful season, the Lord taught me a new way to find peace in the midst of a raging storm by dropping below the wind and waves.
Though I did not understand the counter-intuitive movement toward peace at the time, it is not surprising that the way out of the internal storm was to drop down under it. Over the years, I have come to believe most, if not all, of God’s ways are paradoxical in nature: Lose yourself to find it. Freedom by letting go. Learning to live by dying to the false self.
Another paradox I have come to trust has to do with our deepest fears: We overcome them by naming them and running straight into them. When we pair a deep fear with a declaration of faith, we have what I call a paradox prayer. This is a pattern we can find in scripture repeatedly, the simplest example is the prayer of Job: Though you slay me, yet I will trust you.
The book of Psalms is filled with many paradox prayers, the most famous being the twenty-third: Though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil. The psalmist pairs a statement of fear with a statement of faith, going on to declare for you are with me, your rod and staff, they comfort me.
In the book of Habakkuk, we can find the deepest fears of those who depend on the land for survival accompanied by a statement of faith:
Trust and Joy in the Midst of Trouble
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.
These paradox prayers are much more than simple declarations of faith – they are a neurological exercise, quieting the limbic brain activated by fear. The people of faith in biblical times likely did not understand what we can appreciate today: pairing a deep fear with a statement of faith, creates a connection between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic brain. Thus, we quiet the internal storms, making a way for us to hear the still small voice beckoning us toward peace.
As we approach the end of an unprecedented year of historical events, there is much fodder for fear. When you feel the fears firing up your limbic brain, stand on the shoulders of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before. Name the fears and pair them with statements of faith. Repeat them again and again until your limbic brain calms down.
Then be still.
Listen for the still, small voice.
What is the invitation? Are you being invited to drop below the wind and waves? Are you called to rise above to storm to see from a 10K foot perspective?
In the storms of 2020, may you find peace.
1 For an understanding of the use of Paradox Prayers, listen to Katie’s teaching with the Falun podcast: Overcoming Shame_FalunPodcast
2 A paradox is a truth that holds seemingly opposites together in a way that is counter-intuitive. Many of the core characteristics of God are paradoxical in nature: justice and mercy, truth and grace, comfort and conviction.
3 Job 13:15
4 Habakkuk 3:17-19
Catherine “Katie” Skurja is the founder and director of Imago Dei Ministries. Deeply rooted in and dedicated to Trinitarian principles, the ministry’s purpose is to help people everywhere engage in a Christ-centered healing process that transforms relationships with God, self, and others. Her greatest passion is to accompany people in the journey of discovering who they are in their Imago Dei (image of God). With training as a counselor, spiritual director, and in the work of inner healing prayer, Katie combines the three disciplines to help guide people through the layers of false self and shame in order to bring about the integration of the whole person. Katie and Jim have been married for 33 years and have two grown sons as well as a few “adopted” daughters with whom they share life. She loves to garden, hike, walk on the beach, cook, and read. For more information on her work, check out https://www.idmin.org/