“Make friends with pandemonium”, said the instructor in our 20 minute training before our group headed to the river for some white-water rafting. “If something goes wrong and the raft flips over, you must make friends with pandemonium”. He warned that if we got thrown out of the raft we would be tempted to panic. “If you get stuck under the upside down raft you won’t be able to come up for air, so you must pick one direction and stick to it so you can come out from under the raft. I’ve seen people swim in circles under the raft because they panic.” Seemed a bit strange at the time, but they were covering all their bases. There was plenty of direction given prior to entering the raft. In the event of disaster, we were told to acknowledge the chaos, but follow the instructions.
Finally, we gathered our group of 4 rafts, each with a trained instructor, and started down the river. Things started off great with a few small level 2 rapids. Soon we got to a level 3 and then a level 4 rapid. Even with the increasing difficulty, we were following our guide’s instructions and navigating the waters well.
Then, as we went into another level 4 rapid, the raft ahead of ours lost control and flipped over. One of the men in our raft, concerned for his brother who’d been on the other raft, started looking to the raging waters and forgot to keep paddling with us. Our raft quickly started to turn and as we went down a mini waterfall on our side we were catapulted into the chaotic current as the raft flipped over.
While everyone was flung out of the raft, I was caught underneath it. The pressure of the raft over my head prevented me from coming up for air. When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything except bubbles and white, so I kept them closed. Aware that I could bang my legs against sharp rocks if I didn’t keep my legs up, I tried to swim to the edge of the raft. It was taking too long! My air was running out and panic set in. I thought, “I’m swimming against the current, that’s why it’s taking so long to come out from under the raft. Let me switch directions.” Then, “I must be swimming the length of the raft. If I switch directions I can swim to the nearer side.” So much effort was going into mere inches of progress but I was still stuck. “I may die down here.”
Then I remembered the instructions. “Pick one direction and stick to it until you come out from under the raft.” My instincts were saying all sorts of conflicting things, but in my mind I could hear the instructions. I had to calm myself down enough to ignore my racing thoughts and focus on following those instructions. I continued in the direction I had already chosen, even if it meant having to struggle longer. After some grueling seconds of doubt, I felt the raft pass over me and I came up for the breath of air I craved.
The ability to “make friends with pandemonium” or remain calm in the midst of chaos is not something we can do in every situation on our own. We can learn techniques to relax and focus on what matters, but ultimately the most important element is to know that God is with us and He will instruct us even when we can’t understand what is going on. My sight and strength will be limited, but God sees everything and has the strength to protect me.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)