Following Jesus doesn’t guarantee sunny skies and smooth sailing. In fact, the waters of life are often tumultuous, crashing over us. Sometimes we can feel that we’re drowning in a sea of confusion, division, frustration, complacency, or disillusionment. We need more than a shallow faith to survive these deep waters.
Into the Deep is an invitation to dive headfirst into a life of courageous faith. With endearing warmth and authenticity, Lauren Gaskill shares how she and others have learned to swim with Jesus in the deep waters of life—facing challenges such as anxiety, depression, and chronic illness—only to discover a more authentic, enduring faith that cannot be shaken by circumstances. In addition to examining the character of God and the lives of women and men of the Bible who chose to dive deeper with God, she provides practical examples and tools that help us take our faith to the next level by learning to make decisions by faith alone, control our reactions to overwhelming situations, and live a life rooted in love.
Get ready to exchange fear and frustration for the boldness, courage, and holy confidence that lead to a life of deep faith and joy!
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About the Author
Lauren Gaskill is the author of Into the Deep: Diving Into a Life of Courageous Faith, a national speaker and the president of She Found Joy–SheFoundJoy.com. She is passionate about helping others encounter Jesus in a way that refreshes their faith and fills them to overflowing with His love and joy.
Read an Excerpt
Help Me, I'm Drowning
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
— Psalm 42:7
The clock digits rolled to 2:00 a.m., and I groaned, scolding myself as I tossed and turned in bed for the hundredth time.
You have nothing to worry about, and you're being ridiculous. Just calm down and go to sleep, I whispered to myself as I felt the waves of another anxiety attack creep up inside me. Sleep is a luxury for college students, and at this point I'd be lucky to have a few hours of rest. Every minute counted too, because I had a psychology exam at 8:00 a.m. But knowing this didn't stop my mind from racing, my throat from closing, my heart from palpitating, and my stomach from churning.
I clutched my comforter tightly and prayed for deliverance, but nothing changed. Instead I sank deeper into anxiety with each word I prayed. I wanted to jump out of my dorm room window and run until my lungs gave out. I wanted to scream until the anxiety drained out of my veins. I wanted to feel anything other than the sheer panic and helplessness overtaking my mind.
Minute after minute rolled by, and with no relief in sight I desperately reached for my phone and texted a friend from my Bible study group.
"Help! Please pray for me," I typed. "Feeling lost, alone, and overwhelmed amid another anxiety attack. I don't know what to do. I'm so afraid."
A few minutes later my phone lit up with a reply.
"My dearest Lauren, trust me when I say everything is going to be OK! God is with you, and He wants to use this for your good. Have faith! Trust Him and hold on to hope! He will see you through, and with His help you will overcome the waves. Always remember you are a daughter of the Most High King. You are priceless and beautiful in His eyes, and in Him you have nothing to fear."
As true as her text may have been, it didn't make me feel any better about myself or my situation. At this point in my life, I'd been struggling with anxiety attacks on and off for two years since my junior year of high school when I began having some health issues. To the outside world, I was an accomplished student and swimmer who had it all together, but on the inside I felt like I was drowning — lost in a sea of anxiety, depression, and unexplained chronic pain that was tearing my faith to shreds.
Week after week, I listened to pastors talk about a God who delivers us from our problems, but hearing their words only made me more frustrated and confused. I wondered: If God loves me, then why isn't He rescuing me? If God is good, then why do I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of despair?
Somehow I had missed the explanation of how a life with Christ doesn't always mean crystal clear waters or sunny blue skies; how God is not distant but swims with us through the deep waters of life; how God not only sends help in these situations — He is our help, despite what we might feel or think.
When my life didn't turn around and my health worsened, I began to doubt God's goodness. But worse than that, I lost faith in God's ability to save me. I tried to soothe the ache growing inside me by reading and studying the Bible, but none of it felt real. The stories seemed like a distant fairy tale — something only for people who had it all together and not for someone as messed up as me.
It was a slow process, but somewhere along the way anxiety and depression greatly diminished my faith. I stopped believing things would get better. I stopped believing God had a plan or cared about my future. I watched the world change and move on without me, and with each passing month the "water" in my lungs rose a little higher.
I was drowning.
By God's grace, after graduating from college I finally started looking for a Christian counselor. At the time, the cause of all my physical symptoms was still unknown. I didn't know that I had an overarching condition that caused chronic pain and put me at a predisposed risk to anxiety and depression. I didn't know that there were medications and natural remedies that could help me manage my health and start to heal spiritually. The only thing I knew was that I couldn't keep living the way I was living.
Within a few days of my counselor search, I found myself sitting in one of those infamous leather chairs. You know, the chairs all therapists have in the movies and on TV. The ones that make you feel comfortable and uncomfortable all at the same time. You're comfortable because the leather is super plush and buttery, but you're also uncomfortable because you realize you're about to pour your heart out to a complete stranger.
I grabbed a mint from the bowl on the table and took a long, deep breath as the counselor and I discussed how anxiety and depression were negatively impacting me. Our conversation felt like the very unraveling of me, but the outcome of it was a turning point in my life that helped me begin to understand how I might learn to overcome the waves pulling me under, threatening to take me out.
"Tell me, Lauren. What do you know about God?" the counselor asked as he sat back in his chair and clasped his hands, waiting for my reply.
Silence washed over the room, and I sat speechless, frozen in place. As I contemplated my answer, I hugged my knees into my chest and curled even further into the brown leather chair, trying to find the words to describe what I knew about God.
"I know He loves me," I began. "And He sent his Son to die for me."
"That's right ...," he replied. "Anything else? Or, how about this question: What do you believe about God? I know you know Jesus died for you, but do you believe what the Bible says — that He truly loves you and fights for you, that He will never leave you nor forsake you, that He can make you strong and courageous, that you are no longer dead to sin but alive in Christ, that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in you? Because if you can find a way to truly believe that ... that kind of faith changes everything."
"Honestly? I don't know what to believe anymore. If God is good and worthy of my trust, why hasn't He saved me already?" I said finally, breaking into tears as the words left my lips. "All I know is that I feel like I am drowning, and most days I want to give up the fight. I'm scared, and I don't know what to do."
The counselor brought his hand up to cover his mouth as he glanced at the floor, contemplating the right words to say. And just when I felt like all hope was lost, he looked up and said, "Take courage, Lauren. God isn't causing the problems you are experiencing, but I believe that in His grace, He is using them to teach you something. Maybe this is your chance to reach out to Jesus and learn how to swim. Maybe it's time you embrace the waves and trade your despair for a faith that can help you overcome."
His solution did not make complete sense to me. After all, how does one go about trading doubt and despair for courage and faith? But despite my hesitation, I was willing to give the whole faith thing another try — anything to be rescued.
What Kind of Swimmer Are You?
When you're a competitive swimmer and your parents tell you it's time to apply for your first job, the logical, easy choice is to become a lifeguard or swim teacher, which is exactly what I did. Since my first lifeguarding job at Concord High School, I've had the pleasure of teaching children and adults how to swim on and off for more than eight years in four different states. Through this experience I've observed that there are three kinds of swimmers: swimmers who refuse to learn, swimmers who hesitantly learn, and swimmers who eagerly learn.
Three years into my teaching career, a couple in their sixties reached out to me for help in learning to swim. Up to that point I'd never taught anyone beyond the age of fifteen, but I was ready for the challenge.
"We figured since our granddaughter is learning how to swim, we should finally learn too, in case something happens and we need to help her or save ourselves," the wife told me. Though her face was riddled with hesitation in that moment, after the first lesson her reluctance gave way to an eagerness to learn. Four weeks later, she was floating and swimming in the deep end.
Her husband, however, refused to learn, and after the third lesson, I never saw him again. "I'll just stay out of the deep water," he told me. "I've been fine for sixty years, and I'll be fine for another thirty." I don't know if he will ever unintentionally find himself in deep water, but if he does, I fear what the outcome will be. Without the practice needed to build endurance and put skills into action, he won't stand a chance unless a lifeguard is present and paying attention.
Learning how to swim is a lot like learning how to exercise faith. We have to want to try. We have to pursue a solution. We have to commit to practice skills and work toward building endurance. Similarly, when it comes to exercising faith in the deep waters of life, there are three kinds of people: (1) people who refuse to exercise faith, (2) people who hesitantly exercise faith, and (3) people who eagerly exercise faith.
Can you see yourself in one of these groups today? I have fallen into all three categories at one point or another in my life. Let's consider each one briefly.
1. People Who Refuse to Exercise Faith
When my struggles began in high school, there were moments I refused to believe in the basic affirmations of the Christian faith. I rolled my eyes at Christians who told me to "just have faith." When I found myself drowning in despair, I picked up my Bible — not to read it but to throw it against the wall. I even stopped showing up for youth group and started isolating myself from my friends. When anxiety attacks kept me from sleeping, killing both my personality and my morning appetite, my mom lovingly tried to encourage me with prayer and a plate of peanut butter toast.
"I'm not hungry, and praying isn't going to change anything," I would tell her.
"Sweetheart, you need to eat," she'd say. "And you need to remember Jesus is with you. You don't have to be afraid of this."
I wouldn't say a word. I'd just take a bite of toast and think to myself: Is He with me? Because I don't see Him doing anything here to save me. I'm drowning, and He doesn't even care. What I didn't understand in those pre-college days was that I didn't see Him because I wasn't even looking for Him in the first place.
Instead of pursuing God, I obsessed over my problems. I didn't believe God was going to save me from the physical pain or anxiety I was experiencing, so I gave in to the waves of despair that swept over me, letting my arms go limp as I was sucked into the undertow. In these moments of swirling beneath the surface, the only thing I believed in was that I was destined to sink. So in a way, I guess you could say that I did have faith. But my faith wasn't in God; it was in my certainty of drowning.
If you're in a place where you believe that you're too far gone or that faith isn't worth the fight, hang on to this truth: the fact that you're reading this book is a sign that hope is still alive in you. Now ask yourself: What would happen if I stopped refusing to have faith in God and started refusing to let myself drown? What if I embraced the waves, reached out to Jesus, and learned how to swim with Him? What if I traded my despair for a courageous faith that can help me thrive in the deep waters of life? In this book we will explore together how to do just that.
2. People Who Hesitantly Exercise Faith
Sometimes we do not refuse to believe but we hesitate to believe. To hesitate is to pause, ponder, doubt, sit on the fence, think about, or seesaw and waffle (unfortunately, not the chocolate chip kind). This is where I found myself as I sat in that leather chair in the counselor's office.
Let me be clear: I should have drowned. When the waves became too powerful for me to face them alone, I gave up on faith. I can honestly say it's only by God's grace that I'm alive today. In fact, I believe one of the reasons He reached down and saved me was so I could share this message of hope with you.
The turning point came after hitting rock bottom in my college dorm room. In my weakest, most downcast state, I was afraid and hesitant, but I also allowed myself to ask the question: What if?
What if God could rescue me? What if I could learn to overcome the waves and swim in the deep with God? What if there was more to life than my pain and suffering? What if faith was everything Jesus professed it to be? What if the Bible's promises were true?
Asking these questions threw me into a big mental struggle, but here's what all of the wrestling taught me: Struggling is a good thing, because at the very least it means we are trying. It means we aren't giving in to the waves or refusing the possibility of a rescue. It means hope is alive within us. In the words of the band Tenth Avenue North, "Hallelujah, we are free to struggle. We're not struggling to be free." God's love and Jesus's sacrifice have already set us free, providing a rescue for our weary souls. We just have to be willing to die to our doubt and cling to the faith and freedom we received when we first believed in Christ. This can be a struggle in and of itself, but holding on to faith and pushing back the doubt is worth it.
I wish I could tell you I am always eager to have faith. But after finally being diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) in 2015 — which we now know to be the root of my chronic pain, anxiety, and depression — I'd be lying if I said I don't have days when I doubt or am hesitant to believe something. If that's you today, know that you're not alone and that feeling this way is completely normal and part of the journey! Just because we have hesitations doesn't mean we don't have faith. God doesn't love you any more or less if you're hesitant to trust Him one day and eager to trust Him the next.
The beauty of diving into faith, no matter how much or how little we have, is that when we reach out to Jesus, He is able to love us back to life. And in the flood of His great love, He longs to help us overcome any doubts we may have about who He is and what this life is all about.
As our Lifeguard who watches over and swims with us in the deep, God gives us courage and helps us keep swimming when we feel like we can't take another stroke. We see this in Mark 9:22-24, when Jesus encounters an unbelieving man whose son is really struggling. Having no one else to turn to, the father asks Jesus to remedy the situation, even though his faith is lacking. "If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" Jesus said to him, "[You say to Me,] 'If You can?' All things are possible for the one who believes and trusts [in Me]!" Immediately the father of the boy cried out [with a desperate, piercing cry], saying, "I do believe; help [me overcome] my unbelief" (AMP).
Beloved, if your faith is being weakened by doubts and hesitations, God can help you overcome the unbelief you're grappling with. I'm living proof that all we have to do is have the courage to ask God to give us the faith we need to keep seeking Him — for when we seek, we will find the Savior we are looking for (Jeremiah 29:13). It's not an immediate, Band-Aid-type solution, but it's a permanent promise; and if we will lean in to God's process and trust in His timing, we will see great beauty and transformation unfold in our lives as a result of our faith.
We don't need to have all the answers; we just need to have a heart that is willing to reach out for the Lifeguard who can rescue us and teach us to swim in deep waters.
3. People Who Eagerly Exercise Faith
I never thought God would restore my faith and make me an eager believer — someone who courageously embraces the waves and overcomes because of the faith she has found in Christ. But my testimony gives evidence that it can happen to anyone who willingly seeks God.
As I hinted earlier, I've had my fair share of doubtful days, but over time as I asked God to increase my desire for Him, He replaced my hesitancy with an eagerness to pursue and trust Him more. With this desire also came a hunger for God's Word. For the first time in my life, I craved quiet time and joyfully declared Bible verses over my circumstances. And you know what happened? Yes, the waves were still raging around me, but suddenly I wasn't drowning! It's hard for me to put the experience into words, but when I finally put all my faith in Jesus, saving hope entered my story. The darkness beneath my feet suddenly did not seem so dark, and if I squinted, I could see a tiny light shining through my despair.
Every verse I declared over my life brought new light and hope, and in the dawning of the light my prayers shifted. Instead of praying with desperation or hesitation, I began to pray with boldness.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Into the Deep"
Copyright © 2018 Lauren Gaskill.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Take the Leap,
PART ONE: OUT OF THE UNDERTOW,
Chapter One: Help Me, I'm Drowning,
Chapter Two: Where Is Our Faith?,
Chapter Three: Six Things You Need to Know,
Chapter Four: Trusting God in the Deep,
PART TWO: SWIMMING WITH JESUS,
Chapter Five: Faith like the Ancients,
Chapter Six: Pursuing God,
Chapter Seven: Building Endurance,
Chapter Eight: Overcoming Your Deepest Fears,
Chapter Nine: Your Compass in the Deep,
Chapter Ten: Living with a Victory Mindset,
Chapter Eleven: Sharing Faith,
Chapter Twelve: Warrior of the Deep,