How Can Dolphins Help Abuse Survivors Understand Prayer and Trust?

Do you sometimes struggle with trust issues like me? Abuse survivors often grow up expecting others to hurt us so we have trouble developing trust, or we hand over our trust prematurely to people who don’t earn or deserve it. Early in my recovery, it was hard to trust God. More recently, I have trusted others too quickly and ended up hurt and disillusioned even in the church. How do healthy Christians balance dependence on Christ and their need for community?

As I prayed about this recently, the Holy Spirit dropped the word, “dolphins,” into my mind. I was pretty sure that word was not in my Bible concordance and was immediately intrigued! What could sea mammals teach me about prayer and trust? As I began to read about them, a powerful analogy emerged. 

Dolphins are mammals who live in a community at sea. They do not breath under water like fish do. They breathe air through a hole on the top of their heads, called a “blowhole.” Breathing for dolphins is a conscious activity. In fact, it could be said that dolphins live in an environment that is incapable of sustaining them without a conscious effort on their part to rise above it! The ocean is to a dolphin what the world is to a Christian.  We live in the world yet need a source above it to survive. Dolphins use blowholes to access the atmosphere, while Christians use prayer to access the realm of the Spirit of God.

When a dolphin surfaces for air, he must first breath out to clear accumulated water off his blowhole before taking in a fresh breath. Likewise, a Christian must “blow off” the sins and cares accumulated in this world before accessing a fresh breath of God’s Spirit. Dolphins can hold their breath for 15 minutes while diving, but normally breath 4 to 5 times a minute. Prayer should be as normal for us as breathing, yet as an abuse survivor, I have sometimes found it difficult to connect with God in prayer. Experiences from the past and challenges in the present can make it hard to focus. Like the dolphin, these things (sea water) accumulate on my “blowhole,” and must be offered up to God before I can breathe in His life-sustaining power.  There are two primary ways I have learned to do this.

First, God invites us to cast our cares upon Him because He cares for us (I Peter 5:7). I call this “getting real with God.” Prayer is not a ritualistic formula; it’s a relationship–a conversation with God. I usually begin prayer by focusing on the fact that God is near and recognizing “a breath” is needed. I tell God what is happening now and how I feel about it. There’s no need to hide my story from Him. He already knows it. Sharing it in the safety of His confidential, caring love is for my benefit. Then, I invite Him to show me things from His unique perspective. In this way, I am growing to trust God first and foremost. The more I pray, the more I realize how faithful and true He is.

Second, God invites us to confess our sins because He is faithful and just to forgive us (I John 1:8-9). As an abuse survivor, it is easy for me to recognize the sins of others, but Jesus also calls me to recognize my own sins: things like failure to trust Him or to be honest with Him, myself or others due to fears of being hurt again. When I approach a Holy God, I am immediately aware of these barriers that can keep me from experiencing His presence. I choose to repent of sin and relinquish cares as I “blow them upward” in prayer just as dolphins do prior to taking in the life-giving air they need.

Did you know dolphins rarely drown since they won’t inhale underwater, but they do suffocate from a lack of air? This occurs when they get caught in a fishing net or panic and dive too deep. How many times have I, unlike the dolphins, foolishly tried to breathe underwater, expecting human relationships or worldly comforts to sustain me? Dolphins can open their mouths to fish underwater without drowning because they don’t try to breathe through their mouths. They don’t confuse God’s daily provision of food below with His endless supply of air above them.  Other times I have found myself caught in a net of sin, or I forgot which way was up while in a panic about mistreatment from others. Yes, just like the dolphin, a conscious effort is required to remember the air (Spirit) I need is always above me, never below or beside me, and I need this “air” continuously throughout the day.

Dolphins also offer insights into community. Did you know dolphins rarely travel alone? Male dolphins generally travel in pairs, and females and their young travel in larger pods. The most interesting aspect of dolphin communities is how they sleep. Dolphins either rest quietly in the water floating on the surface like a log, or they sleep while swimming next to another animal. When they sleep and swim, they are in a state similar to napping. When napping, the dolphin shuts down only half of its brain, along with the opposite eye. The other half of the brain stays awake at a low level of alertness. The attentive side is used to watch for predators, obstacles, and other animals. It also signals when to rise to the surface for a fresh breath of air! After a couple of hours, the animal will reverse the process. (Click here to read the source article about dolphins sleeping.)

As I pondered this, I envisioned two dolphins swimming side-by-side. What a beautiful picture of fellow believers. I Peter 5:8-11 admonishes Christians to remain alert to the enemy’s tactics; what better way to do that than in the company of prayer partners? There is great benefit to having a friend or two to “swim” beside you and help you remain alert, even while resting.  I read that healthy dolphins have even been seen holding sick dolphins at the surface to allow them to breath to prevent suffocation. Perhaps that is the equivalent of a dolphin prayer group! I think these examples model the essence of Christian community.  We need like-minded friends who help us detect danger while swimming together toward the source of life above the waterline.

These dolphin analogies have really encouraged me, and I hope they have been beneficial for you too. I’m going to buy some dolphin jewelry to remind me of these lessons about prayer and trust! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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