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  • Writer's pictureJubilee Lipsey

Casting Away

(Keys to moving on)

I love rewatching old movies and discovering hidden treasures of insight God’s been saving for the precise moments when they’ll matter the most.

I came across some recently while revisiting 20th Century Fox’s Cast Away with Tom Hanks. The film (YouTube source cited below) was released in 2000, but back then I was too young to pay much attention to any lessons it might hold. Also, I was still too upset by stories that didn’t fully resolve. But adulthood is teaching me that making peace with an apparent lack of resolution (at least on Earth) is one of the keys to living a more fulfilled and effective life.

For those who haven’t seen Cast Away in a long time or at all, this may be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me and prepare for spoilers.

Basically, Hank’s character Chuck nearly dies in a plane crash and finds himself marooned on an island where he must survive alone for four grueling years before making it back home against all odds. His desperation leads him to befriend a volleyball, aka Wilson, and build a raft by which he sails into a shipping lane in search of rescue. But his incredible return home is clouded by the reality that his beloved girlfriend has married another man, profoundly altering the life he thought he’d be coming back to.

The overarching story is Chuck’s fight for survival and rescue, but the most emotional parts of the film all follow his journey to find acceptance in a life that has effectively been shattered apart. His character arc throughout the film is marked by three crucial and crushing aspects of surrender as he lets go of several things that hold similar meaning for all of us.

Most of us don’t have something as dramatic as a plane crash or years of exile to shake us into a place where this kind of surrender is necessary. And yet it is. For all of us.

Philippians 3:14 encourages us to “press on to reach the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” But the surrounding verses clearly outline how we are to do that—by letting go of what’s behind us and straining forward to what’s ahead. And what’s ahead often looks completely different than what we knew before.

The three things Chuck lets go of in the film correlate to our different levels of surrender as we move forward.

1. Setting Sail: Chuck nearly weeps when he shoves off from the shore of his island. He cursed at it before, viewing it as a prison, and yet it also represented a great deal of safety that he wouldn’t find on the open ocean. Chuck’s letting go of his island is akin to letting go of the comfort zone you’ve become trauma-bonded with. Sometimes we actually become paradoxically attached to places that held huge amounts of pain for us. Why else would the Israelites have wanted to stay in Egypt, the land of their slavery (Exodus 14:11-20)? What Egypt have you become attached to? What unknown new land holds your promise? There’s always a risk in setting sail, but could it be time to fix your eyes on what’s ahead rather than what’s behind?

2. “Wilson, I’m sorry!” It’s fairly disturbing on screen to see Tom Hanks’ character lose his mind over the volleyball he befriends. For four years, “Wilson” has been the only “person” on the receiving end of Chuck’s thoughts, arguments, griefs, and worries. You’d think Chuck would realize that the ball is just a coping mechanism, but he nearly loses the will to live after Wilson is lost to the sea. That’s because Wilson was more than an imaginary friend. He provided mental stability for Chuck by allowing him to split his personality away from the crisis at hand and be “normal” with someone. As long as Chuck was protecting Wilson, he was protecting himself. Until he nearly drowned trying to retrieve the ball. Screaming in pain, Chuck realizes that his life will only be saved if he lets Wilson go. This level of surrender can be more painful and offensive than you might expect, and yet it’s one of the most important. Remember how Lot’s wife became immobilized by refusing to let go (Genesis 19)? Certain coping skills may have helped you survive up to this point, but eventually they’ll cost you the life you were meant to have. Are you willing to leave them behind when God reveals the next step?

3. “You have to go home.” Getting past those two stages is hard enough, but then there’s “Kelly”. There are few things more demoralizing than fighting your way back to a life you cherished only to discover that certain aspects will never be the same. After being picked up by a ship, Chuck returns home to find that his fiancé has married another man and had a child. Face to face with Kelly at last, Chuck nearly drives off with her before realizing that she has a new life that doesn’t include him. He’s devastated knowing that he has to lose her all over again. However, the lessons he learned on the island prove incredibly valuable as he chooses to face the future and be thankful for a new start—whatever that looks like.

It causes Chuck a great deal of pain to let go of his island, his Wilson, and his Kelly, but without accepting these losses, he wouldn’t have fully come back from his calamity.

All these levels of surrender are painful enough to tempt a person to give up. You could easily get stuck at any one of these potential roadblocks. But God doesn’t leave us to relinquish them alone. He gives us Himself in exchange.

The key to succeeding against all these odds is to recognize your identity in Christ and embrace the life God has for you—which is often radically different from the life you were fighting for in your head. “’Behold, I’m doing a new thing,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 49:13)!

You don’t have to be afraid to let go and move forward, even with huge pieces of your soul missing. God will fill those empty places with Himself. And as you turn your face towards the horizon, you’ll find a renewed sense of freedom in the realization that His sufficiency will prepare you for whatever the tide might bring.

Zemeckis, Robert, Director. Cast Away. Screenplay by William Broyles Jr. Twentieth Century Fox, 2000. YouTube, Uploaded by YouTube Movies & TV,

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