When I was 19 years old, I had a near-death experience. It was the summer after my freshman year in college, and I was a too-cool-for-much-of-anything chaperone on my church’s summer mission trip. That day was our “fun day” to be enjoyed after a week of ministry. We were buzzing with excitement to go white water rafting on a faucet river that had been used the year before during the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics. I had experience with rafting and was sitting up front in the lead boat. Although the ambient temperature was in the high 80s, the water was 56 degrees and colder, depending on depth.
We meandered down the river for a while, getting our bearings, enjoying the bright day and listening to our guide tell us about himself and the river. We listened with rapt attention as he told us stories about his many years on the river, the maneuvers he had worked to perfect and other rivers he had rafted with high-level rapids reserved for experts. He instructed us on how to navigate the rapids we would face. It was sizing up to be quite the adventure.
In my boat were several youth and my long-time boyfriend who had never rafted. Three other boats trailed behind us with the rest of the group and leaders. My boat had gone first because I was the only adult with experience. After rounding a bend, the first rapids came into sight, and the guide announced it was a Class III/IV run. We thought we knew all we needed to know because he had spent time telling us. And remember, I had experience. My heart raced as we approached the white-tipped water.
About two seconds before we hit the rapids, I sensed something was very wrong and I was completely helpless. We hit at an improper angle, which caused the raft to sharply jerk upwards on one side, tossing everyone on the left side into the water, along with one of the rafters on the right side. I could hear yelling and panic, but all of my energy was being spent on staying face up. I had lost my oar, was disoriented and becoming aware of the effect the cold water was beginning to have on my body. I could not turn to see behind me or what lay ahead. I had no idea if I was in open water or on a collision course with a boulder. I could not do anything except look up.
The sky above me was vibrant blue with a few clouds here and there. I began to lose consciousness as time went by and hypothermia took hold. Scenes from my life started coming to mind. I internally laughed at the irony that I was experiencing the very thing I had heard about so often in movies and read in books. My life was, literally, flashing before my eyes. I thanked the Lord for his many blessings as tears stung my eyes. I contemplated what my parents and brother would face after my death on the river. It made me very sad, but not afraid because I knew where I was going upon taking my last breath. At 19, I was nothing if not dramatic.
I felt a tug on the back of my life vest, then it registered that someone was yelling my name. I focused as best I could on the voice. It was my boyfriend, and he was yelling, “Hang on! I’ve got you!”. I could not see him, but I felt his grip on my vest, knew he was holding tight and was in the water with me. Miraculously, all of us were rescued without serious injury that day. As I began to think about writing this devotional, the memory of that day came to mind, and I realized it is exactly what addiction is like.
What I did not know or understand at the time of the incident on the river was that the seeds of addiction had already taken root in my life and would continue to grow for years to come. For addicts, dependence on a substance or habit grows over time and takes more of life with it along the way. Just like my time on the river before the rapids, my addiction sort of hummed along without much drama. But, just as it was the moment I was catapulted into the water, addiction eventually causes chaos and crisis. Try as you might, addiction is just like swimming a rapid. You do not have control and, unless someone intervenes on your behalf, you face an entirely uncertain future and may be on a collision course with something far worse.
Our heavenly Father offers divine intervention for those struggling with addiction, compulsion, hang-ups or habits. Just as I was not alone in the water, I was not alone in my addiction, either. If this is your struggle today, you are not alone.
“Anyone can struggle with addiction, at any income level or position in life.”
— NorthPoint Recovery
You may be thinking, “You don’t know my struggle,” or “It will always be this way for me,” or even “It’s too late for me.” You are right, I do not know your struggle. But it does not always have to remain this way, and it is not too late. Ask me how I know, and I will tell you without reservation that it is because I have swum that river.
There is a temptation to believe that what you struggle with is so bad that God cannot or will not come to your rescue. That is the enemy’s lie, meant to keep you defeated. The Lord offers you redemption, healing and hope. He says so, in no uncertain terms, in Isaiah 43:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…
… Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…
— Isaiah 43:2,4
If you are struggling today, know that you are not alone. You, like me, can be pulled out of the water and your feet set on dry land. It’s possible. Oh, it is so very possible. The Bible is full of redemption stories. In both the Old and New Testament, there are accounts of murderers, thieves and the like that God rescued and redeemed. You can be the next one.
I encourage you to reach out to your campus pastor or our co-pastors. It’s safe to tell them your story, and they can help you find resources to address what you face. Use what is available in your area, such as Re:generation (clifec.com/JourneyGroups) to begin learning how to fight this battle. Above all, as pastor Paul McDill said on Sunday, “Go all in with Christ.” Believe him when he says in Jeremiah:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
— Jeremiah 29:13
He guarantees to show up for you. You are not alone.