Sometimes you have to die to live

My lifeguard trainer tried to kill me. Often.

Though I never used the certification, I went through lifeguard training years ago with a mountain of a man whose name escapes me now, though Mike seems right. He was renowned for his ability to dive to the bottom of our college’s Olympic-size pool and hang out there for minutes like a killer whale waiting for an unsuspecting seal.

Lifeguards know that a drowning person will instinctively try to climb on top of a potential rescuer — not to try to kill the rescuer, but just to climb on top of anything in a desperate attempt to get out of the water. You have to train for that, of course, and Mike’s job was to be the “drowning” person.

I approached him, tried to get behind him, but he spun like a ballerina in the water, wrapped mammoth arms around me, and took me straight down like the Kraken taking down a ship. Obviously, he didn’t let me drown, but at the time I came as close as I ever have. I could not escape his inhumanly strong grasp nor could my lungs outlast his, and I wanted nothing more than to free myself and shoot to the surface.

I have never again come so close to drowning, and yet I have come to know the feeling as an old friend.

Who would expect?

If you had kids come of age in the early 2000s, or if you came of age during that time, you certainly knew who Avril Lavigne is. Just in case you missed that, the song I knew best was Complicated — not so much musically, and I don’t mean that as an insult. The girl had talent, had a voice, and certainly had a good sense of pop culture.

One of Avril Lavigne’s most well-known songs from back in the day.

She had lots of other songs, including 20 in Billboard’s Hot 100, five in the top 10 and one number one hit (Girlfriend). They were catchy, but not my style. So I didn’t realize that she had mostly disappeared for five years.

It turns out that she faced a life-threatening illness. Lyme disease. She faced her own mortality. 

I don’t really know the details of her struggle. I just know everyone faces soul-wrenching challenges at some point in life.

It reminds me of when I was in ministry before. One member of the church was one of those folks who always seemed cheerful, always laughing, always happy to see you. You would think nothing bothered him. But one day he came to my office on the anniversary of the day his wife died in his arms from a traffic accident that also killed one of their children. His anguish left me wondering how he managed to avoid curling up in a fetal position on the floor.

When he left, another person came in with an equally anguished story. Followed by another. Etc.

After awhile, it struck me that everyone faces such situations at some point, but that since people don’t talk about such situations for all kinds of reasons, most of us think we’re the only one. So we don’t connect. We just push it down and try to hide it from the world.

We may feel like we’re drowning.

There’s another side, though, a coming up out of the water. It has been said that religion is for people afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been. While that’s too simplistic a divide, it does hint at the vastly different experience of life that survivors carry.

When I first heard “Head Above Water,” I thought I could hear it in her voice: this woman has been through hell and back. She has come back to life.

Personally, I think that is why it is so important that God came down here, went through birth and human life and suffering and death. Through Jesus He knows experientially what humans experience. In any case, based on what I hear in this song, I believe Avril Lavigne knows both suffering and the feeling of being supported through it.

Watch this.

At this writing, I’m waiting to hear what else comes from this album. I make no judgment of her, as I have sometimes heard people make on entertainers who discover a spiritual connection. If you follow me on these topics, I hope you will find that I take seriously the direction of Jesus to not judge people. I do hope that through her own journey many others will find hope as they face the difficulties of life. If “Head Above Water” does that for listeners, that is a great contribution to life.

Donn King helps people figure out their purpose in life and effectively communicate about it. He does that through teaching, writing, and ministry.
Donn King helps people figure out their purpose in life and effectively communicate about it. He does that through teaching, writing, and ministry.

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