I recently went on a fishing trip with my brothers and something happened to me that hadn’t happened in a while. I caught a fish! Not only that, but a few hours in, the waves started growing a bit, as did the sense of nausea inside my stomach. Thankfully, I didn’t get ill, but I needed to take a break and stare at a lighthouse on the horizon for several minutes to regain my sea legs.
The experience led me, again, to investigate what causes motion sickness and how we can combat it. Simply put, if what the eyes see and the inner ear feels don’t add up with one another, you could be in trouble. Having my eyes look down at a stationary fishing line didn’t equate with the 4- to 5-foot waves that my inner ear could sense we were bobbing up and down on.
The solution? Look up. Find a stationary point in the distance to look at and, as the image bobs up and down with the boat, your eyes and inner ear will be in sync again. That’s why it helps in cars to look out the front windshield or to look out windows on airplanes.
Figure skaters use a special technique called optokinetic nystagmus (say that 10x fast) that trains the eyes to track objects while the head remains still (think of not moving your head and following a car with only your eyes). This allows them to spin at great speeds and not get dizzy.
So why all this talk about motion sickness? It seems to me that motion sickness is an apt analogy to what many of us feel in our spiritual lives. This feels especially true now. While being tossed about by the different waves of anxiety, fear and depression (to name a few) that are so prevalent in our society, it can be tempting to think that the proper response is to just hunker down and hope it comes to an end soon.
But that is not the Christian response. We don’t fear the storm or the journey, we rise above and persevere through. How do we do this without becoming spiritually dizzy or nauseous?
Look up. Find the stationary object that gives us our bearings and restores our balance. Listen to what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke:
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” Luke 21:25-28.
Jesus is the stationary object we look to; the Alpha and the Omega, the God who is, who was and who is to come (Revelation 1:8). God’s being, love and grace transcend the storms of our lives. While we are tossed about, it is vital for us to stop, look up and seek the face of Jesus, who is always with us. Staring down at our problems, fears and insecurities for too long will only make us sick. Jesus is the lighthouse that helps us get our sea legs back. St. Teresa of Avila has the famous quote" “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes.”
This is why stopping throughout the day to pray, even if just for a couple of minutes, is so vital. It is like a fisherman or ice skater training their inner ear and eye to adapt to their surroundings. It takes time to form the habit of prayer, but it’s absolutely necessary. When I don’t, it feels like things are spiraling out of control. But by stopping to look up from my work, my worries and all the fleeting things of this world that steal my joy, then, and only then, can I “persevere in running the race that lies before (me) while keeping (my) eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).