An earthquake can be a devastating force. My early years were lived in southern California where benign quakes were a regular occurrence and it was no big deal to see water sloshing in the neighbour’s pool. But I have also seen with my own eyes the aftermath of a massive quake in Haiti that left the country in ruins. Earthquakes can ravage in minutes what has taken years or decades to build.
Recently, while praying, I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of a tall skyscraper rocking back and forth. It was almost as if it had become rubberized and was swaying, Gumby-like, side to side. It was evident an earthquake was occurring. The ground heaved and the building tremored and shook. But it didn’t fall. It had been built for this.
There are a number of ways to earthquake-proof buildings. One way to make a simple structure more resistant is to tie the walls, floor, roof and foundations into a rigid box that holds together. Another engineering masterpiece is to incorporate a massive water tank at a high elevation within a building to absorb the vibrations of seismic activity. Something like a giant pendulum has also been suspended into the centre of skyscrapers with the goal of counterbalancing the lateral movements of the earthquake. Whatever the design, these are not technologies typically included in regular construction. They are intentional, preventative measures.
Preparation and proper engineering can be the difference between still-standing and rubble. The same is true for humans.
Like buildings that are designed to handle the vertical load of a roof and walls, we can typically support the vertical load of regular life bearing down on us: schedules, jobs, expectations, budgets. But earthquakes present a lateral or sideways force to structures that is more complicated to account for. These unexpected, sideways motions in our lives might look like infidelity, job loss, a cancer diagnosis. Bracing against these quakes requires a more intentional design.
I am determined to withstand life’s quakes…and not only to withstand. I want to stick it to those unexpected lateral forces, repurposing them into something that serves instead of destroys.
Regretfully, I don’t believe we’re born ready. Yes, some humans have a naturally higher level of resiliency, but more often, it’s a case of being retro-fitted, which is always uncomfortable, messy work. But necessary work.
There have been seasons in my life that I didn’t understand at the time. In retrospect, I can see that what felt destructive was an intentional, preventive measure; I was being quake-proofed.
Remember when you felt gutted, like your fragile insides were being removed, but possibly being replaced with something much stronger? It was for this. Remember when it felt like your foundations were crumbling, jack-hammered and bull-dozed? It was for this. Remember when you got dug down so deeply that you wondered if you’d ever see the light of day again? It was for this. Remember when you were deconstructed to the point that you no longer even recognized yourself? It was for this.
Once we’ve been made strong by engineer-God, we can withstand and even prevail. The quakes that threaten to take us down might make us sway and crumble a little. We might shudder and tremble, but baby, we won’t fall.
God’s presence in us literally acts as the counterbalancing force against life-quakes. When the lateral pressures come and we are swayed, his presence in us stabilizes us. Where, once, we would have been devastated, now, we stand firm.
Permission to speak freely? Metaphorically, of course.
Sometimes a little earthquake isn’t the worst thing in the world. What might be intended for evil, God can use for good. If we want to be our truest and best selves—if we want to discover essence—we need some things to fall away. And a quake is the very thing to accomplish it.
It is frighteningly easy to float along, ignorant and self-absorbed, deaf and blind to our own ideas, beliefs and passions.
We don’t even know what we think about things.
We grip batons of opinion handed to us like they’re our own.
We wear mantles that do not align with who we were created to be.
We define ourselves by uninvited labels that were slapped onto us by others.
We tout beliefs that actually hold very little resemblance to God’s word.
We enable relationships that are hazardous to our health.
We gird with extra layers of protective padding that end up isolating us.
Sometimes we NEED a little shake up to wake up.
In my early thirties, the ground shook and it all fell down. While my building was technically still upright, I experienced a deconstruction that altered every aspect of life as I had known it; no part left untouched. My beliefs swayed, my family structure altered, my understanding of my place in the world trembled, and my sense of safety, belonging and meaning shook. The facade crumbled and my building was beyond recognition.
During this time, I experienced something like a vision or a thought-process or a movie in my mind; you can choose whatever language you’re comfortable assigning to such inexplicable experiences.
I saw myself crouched before something like a giant pile of broken concrete and rubble; a mountain made up of the debris of my life. I was on my hands and knees, hunched over and overwhelmed. I couldn’t discern what was worth saving and what was lost, what was God-made and what was human-made, what was truth and what was a lie. It was all mixed up together in that giant mountain before me; a mountain I knew was mine to sort through.
And then I became aware of a presence; someone was with me. I looked to my right and there was Jesus, on his knees beside me. Sobbing and gasping, I said “Jesus, I just can’t…I just don’t even know where to start…” He looked at me, face full of understanding, then gave me a wink of solidarity that said, “Right, let’s do this.” He pushed up his saviour-sleeves, pulled my burden across his own shoulders and began the sorting. As he pulled out each bit of rubble, he’d look at it, and then look at me: “This is garbage. Pitch it.” “This is truth; put it in the keep pile.” “This isn’t me. Get rid of it.” And so on.
The vision went on for quite a long while. I remember the absolute comfort and safety of his presence. I felt held. He was with me. And when the sorting was complete, I had a drastically smaller pile than when I began; one I could hold in my two hands. But it was truth. My building looked more bare-bones and less ornate, but it was truly, authentically me.
This epiphanal experience (urban dictionary agrees with me that epiphanal should be a word) has remained with me throughout the years. The earthquake was worth it. I still hold these most important God-truths like precious treasures. There are a lot of ideas and patterns, habits and rules to which we blindly adhere that don’t actually have their origin in God. They are cultural norms, mores, practices—not all bad, but not always that important. I’ll take a small handful of treasures I know to be genuine over a giant mountain of rubble any day.
So, this quake you’re experiencing right now? The truth is, it may leave you a little banged up. It might cause a few fractures in your structure. Your beautiful facade may crumble and you might not even recognize yourself. You’re gonna feel it all. But God is within you. You will not fall. (Ps. 46.5).
Let’s reframe the inevitable quakes of life for good instead of devastation. When we are fortified by God, earthquake experiences can, surprisingly, serve us well. They shake our foundations enough to wake us up and to remove the accumulation of non-essential crap we carry around with us. We don’t have to be afraid of these quakes. God almighty is in us and with us. We can do it.
“He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together” (Col. 1.17). That includes you.