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Resist the Undertow of Who You Are NOT


Resist the Undertow of Who You Are NOT
© Wes Gow

June 2016

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an undertow as follows: “an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent,” and then again as, “a current in the sea or ocean that is below the surface and that moves away from the shore.”  Generally speaking, both of these describe a movement away from what is desired.

A force in opposition to what is apparent is essentially one that encompasses deceit.  And a current moving away from shore is certainly not a desired position in which to be caught.

In my own life, I think I’ve come to discover that these currents and forces are often presented to us.  What’s more, I believe we are offered the chance to either wade into them, or deny their access.  Choosing the first option usually costs me, and I’m only just now beginning to understand that the second one exists.  The law of entropy (2nd law of thermodynamics) states that systems and processes left to themselves do not tend toward a state of increased orderliness; rather, they naturally gravitate toward a state of disorderliness and chaos.  Similarly, I believe that life has a way of slowly and subtly pulling you under.  If left unchecked, you may very well suddenly find yourself in an unhealthy place.  What’s concerning, though, is that I’ll bet that when you look back at how you got there, you’ll probably discover that you said “yes” to things that were initially good.  In fact, you probably said yes before you consulted your values (or were even aware that you had them!).

I’ll get more detailed, but let me make a few important distinctions.  First, I’m not suggesting a life of selfishness.  Seek the good of others, but know that you’re no good to others if you’re not also careful to seek your own fulfillment.  Second, I’m not implying that one should avoid new challenges.  “Not to dare is to lose oneself.”  I agree wholeheartedly with Kiergerguard.  Seek disruptions that edify, avoid distractions that erode.  Lastly, sometimes the only way out of an undertow is to ride it out.  That’s true of being caught in a literal ocean undertow.  Should you find yourself being swept away from the shore, the worst thing you could do is fight like hell against it.  Rather, you’re told to stay afloat and let the current take you out to where it runs out of steam; you’ll then be better able to swim parallel to shore before returning to its safety.  Ride it out.  Like that job that you hate but its paying for the Ph.D. that’s going to afford you a life more true to your calling and your values.

Resist the undertow of who you are NOT.  The last four years of my life have been something of a crucible.  Nothing hugely dramatic, but then crucibles and their processes rarely are.  Oddly enough, my college and university degrees are in science.  I’ve logged loads of undergraduate hours in chemistry, and we often utilized crucibles in the adjoining lab exercises.  Despite what the process is accomplishing, it’s actually fairly underwhelming.  For those not familiar with this content, I’ll be brief:  basically the impurities of a metal mixture are separated in a small, heated bowl.  That’s about it.  Now to be fair, we’re talking about a substance that is subjected to very intense heat, which results in that substance being torn asunder, if you will.  BUT, actually watching that take place through the frames of greasy lab goggles is super boring:)

Crucibles of life can be subtle and even difficult to spot.  For example, in the last 4 years we’ve welcomed our two beautiful little girls into this world.  Huge blessing!  They’re both remarkable little ladies and we love them dearly!  But after 5 years of marriage without kids, 2 in 3 years was a big life change for us.  So just keep that in mind:  the person sitting right next to you looking like they’ve got it all together may very well be giving it all they’ve got just to keep it together.

Over the last 4 years I’ve become increasingly aware of who I am, and thus better able to identify that which edifies and that which erodes, endeavors that keep me closer to the shoreline of my values and those which I’ve learned will work to pull me away from it.  The crucible started to separate the two into startling clarity, and yet I stubbornly held onto everything, ignoring the erosion until finally my foundation began to crumble underneath.  I like to NOT think of myself as an idiot, so I’ll clarify here that the reason I hesitated to remove the “impurities” is that they were generally good, and thus it took me a very long time to acknowledge them as a source of erosion.  For example, I fronted a local band for a long time, writing and recording music and playing shows.  Sounds fun, right?  And it was!  But it was wearing me out.  At first, like probably every other example I could cite, I turned inward and assumed I was the problem.  Then I realized all that this venture was requiring of me:  booking shows, paying studio time, organizing rehearsals, (and then REorganizing cancelled rehearsals), building the website, and essentially acting as publicist, manager, agent and babysitter.  Now LOTS of indie musicians and bands have to do that, so big-deal-boo-hoo.  But the scale of edification and erosion began to tip in the wrong direction and I knew it was time for me to push pause.  In general, am I a better husband, father, and friend now that music isn’t a part of my life?  No.  But am I better now for pushing pause on what that particular expression had devolved into?  Immensely so.  I’m certain music will be a part of my life again, but it’ll have to be in a way that edifies.

And that’s just one example.  I could list a half dozen easily.  Things that were in and of themselves good, yet they were an undertow to erosion and I (or “we,” to include my wife in some cases) have had to push pause.  Will we be in this place forever?  No, I don’t think so.  Right now we’re prioritizing our values and trying our best to figure out life in a season of rest.  We both envision (and are working to pursue) a future in which we have more emotional, spiritual, and financial margin to serve and seek community.  But that day will never come to fruition unless we’re actively resisting the undertows of who we are NOT.