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Navigating the Fog
When the realities of life are disorienting
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We woke to a thick fog that had descended over the harbor. It wasn’t ideal, but we needed to get our boat from Jacksonville, Florida to Brunswick, Georgia, and we only had two days to do it. We’re still new to sailing oceans, so it was already daunting, but the fog added another layer of complexity. We’re not new to sailing; we sailed a smaller boat on an inland lake for years. However, navigating channels and longer passages is a whole different challenge. But we proceeded cautiously, hoping the fog would lift as the sun rose. Only it didn’t.
As we got underway, I took over the helm so Ken could stow lines and handle a few other necessary tasks. We were exiting the same harbor we had entered six weeks before, so we knew there were many obstacles to navigate—crab pots, anchored boats, draw bridges, and other potential hazards. I knew they were there; I just couldn’t see them. But we had instruments there to guide us—tools that helped us understand where we were in the channel, where the shallow spots were, and even where some boats were located.
But the fog was thick, and my eyes played tricks on me. Shadows that hinted at something solid nearby were just shadows. And there were times it looked like we were sailing right into land. Confusion and doubt caused me to want to move toward what felt safer, what seemed right to my eyes. But the instruments said the opposite, and they were there to guide us through what we could not see.
Eventually, I took my place on the bow of the boat, and Ken took his at the helm. I scanned the fog, pointing out crab pots that could foul our prop and kill our engine. I pointed out channel markers to ensure we were on the right side of the channel and not heading into oncoming traffic. And I listened for engines and noise that would indicate other boaters nearby. It was cold, damp, and uncomfortable, but it was essential to our success. We had to work together as a team—communicating regularly, pointing out what the other could not yet see, and helping each other navigate the fog safely.
The whole experience was disorienting. And it felt like an appropriate ending for 2022. So much about the year felt similar to our journey back to Brunswick. Some things that were true and solid faded into the fog, leaving faint shadows as a reminder of their presence. Other things I thought were real and true evaporated like mist before my eyes. Still others emerged out of the thick fog revealing their substantiveness and helping to reorient me.
Psychiatrist Phil Stutz says life has three inescapable realities: pain, uncertainty, and constant effort. And that is true of the life of faith in a broken world. Life is complex and nuanced, which makes it impossible to reduce people and circumstances into overly simplistic answers or categories. People will surprise and disappoint us and fail to meet our expectations. Reality will creep in like a thief in the night and rob you of what you thought your life would be. Everything can change in an instant, flipping your entire world upside down. Life consistently dismantles our illusions and confronts us with a truer tale. There are no hard-fast rules or equations to follow to ensure life will turn out a specific way. Because that is not the economy of life. All of life happens to all people.
When life, God, and people do not submit to our pre-defined categories, the fog descends, and we become disoriented. And, to make matters worse, our ability to see is often hindered by our faulty vision. Our eyes, minds, and hearts play tricks on us, making it hard to discern truth from fiction and substance from shadows. All of it can leave us straining our eyes and fumbling around in the fog—bumping into hazards and into one another.
As Ken and I made our way through downtown Jacksonville, we knew a bridge was in front of us. It was an undeniable fact. But we could not see it. Similarly, God says he is with us and for us, but sometimes the comfort of his presence and power are shrouded by the dense fog of sin, brokenness, and suffering. So how can we faithfully navigate the fog of life when there is no certainty and no clear path forward?
Mine and Ken’s ability to navigate the fog depended on two things: our instruments and one another. Our instruments told us the truth about our surroundings. They oriented us in the channel—what was behind, on each side, and ahead of us—and helped us know where to go and what to avoid. The Bible tells us the truth about life. It reminds us that pain and brokenness are inevitable. And when (not if) we face it, we need the Bible’s truths to orient us and help us make it to safe harbor even when we cannot see our way clear of the fog.
Throughout the uncertainty and disorientation of this year, I’ve had to depend on two things: God's word and community. These two things have been my beacons—consistently grounding me in truth that transcends what I can see, guiding me along the narrow path when the way forward is uncertain, and reorienting me when my eyes play tricks on me.
God’s word and community are our beacons—consistently grounding us in truth that transcends what we can see, guiding us along the narrow path when the way forward is uncertain and reorienting us when our eyes play tricks on us.
But unlike other times I’ve found myself navigating challenging circumstances, last year wasn’t a year of burying myself in the Bible—seeking, reading, studying, and memorizing its truths. I hardly opened my Bible for five months. I didn’t spend hours pouring my heart out to God in pleas or praise. Some days, it was all I could do to do the next thing. But that doesn’t mean that God and the truths of his word weren’t actively working in my life. Instead, the seeds of truth he had planted in me over years of reading his word broke through the barren landscape of my heart and mind and bloomed with the eternal truths I most needed to hear. I was not overly aware of his presence, but he was (and is) the quiet, steady current gently guiding me through the waters.
God has provided us with the truth we need to keep us moving forward amid the fog. This world and its people are broken, and unrealistic expectations of life in a broken world will lead to disillusionment, disappointment, and despair. All of God’s people, including you and me, are glorious ruins —capable of both goodness and blessing and brokenness and harm. We will not find true hope or security in this world or anything it offers. They can only be found in him. We may feel adrift in the fog, but Jesus is the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls. No matter how things currently seem, God is at work and mending will occur—whether in this life or the one to come.
These truths from God’s word were the light for my path and the lamp for my feet. But I also needed God’s people. Because some days, the haze was so great that God’s word disappeared into the mist, and I could not gain my bearings. When the fog descends, it shrouds everything in its path—the beautiful and the treacherous alike. So community was essential to my finding safe harbor. I needed others calling out to me in the fog, pointing out hazards, helping me navigate my blindspots, and reminding me that, though it appears so, I am not alone. Relationships are risky because they can bring about immense pain. But they can also be a vessel through which God brings hope, healing, and freedom. And while part of last year's hard was entwined with people, so was part of the beauty and blessing.
Relationships are risky because they can bring about immense pain. But they can also be a vessel through which God brings hope, healing, and freedom.
I don’t know what last year held for you. Maybe you found yourself navigating unwanted divorce or separation. Or you waded into unknown waters of a medical diagnosis for you or someone you love. Perhaps you lost a loved one unexpectedly or watched someone you know struggle through addiction or mental illness. But if you are like me, at some point during the year, you experienced something disorienting and found yourself saying, “I just don’t understand.” “How did we get here?” “This doesn’t make any sense.” “What now?” or even “God, where are you?”
And none of us knows what this year will hold, but I do know it will include pain, uncertainty, and the need for endurance. But Jesus is the beacon who has promised to guide us through the fog into safe harbor, where we will one day dwell in peace and safety with him and one another for all eternity. In the meantime, we stand at the threshold with our brothers and sisters—trusting God’s word and calling out truth to one another in the fog.
All my love,
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