We’re on vacation this week and it’s my first time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Now that I’ve confessed that mortal sin, I feel like maybe we can move on. (For those of you who can’t fathom that there are people in the world who have never made it to your favorite vacation spot, I feel like maybe there’s a growth opportunity there or something…)
Earlier in the week, the weather apps all agreed. Rain all week with a few thunderstorms thrown in. Apparently the meteorologists are working behind the scenes with Myrtle Beach locals to keep tourists away, because every one of those weather reports has been gloriously wrong.
So we’ve ventured down to the beach. We’ve carried a ridiculous quantity of possessions with us. We’ve found our spot and set up camp. We’ve enjoyed the sun, sand and the surf, particularly the surf.
The waves have been a blast. They were substantial enough on more than one day that there were actual surfers. The kind that have actual surfboards.
Each day, I swim out with the kids and their boogie boards and we ride a few in. It’s fun, mostly because they are crazy little balls of insanity, I mean joy. It’s also fun because we’re still working out the dynamics of boogie boarding. Things like timing the wave, pushing off without kicking a sibling, actually riding the wave before turning around and yelling “did I do it right?!?!” That one happens a lot. I won’t say every time, but it’s pretty close…
Today, I noticed a few things as we paddled around together and these things gave us some opportunities for teaching moments. They also gave me some opportunities for reflection.
I noticed that the kids spend a lot of time and energy fighting the ocean. They paddle more than they need to and not always in straight lines. They shift into doggie paddle mode when their feet could easily touch the ground. They swim against the current. More often than not, they’d simply exhaust themselves from all their efforts and we have to head back to our spot and take a break.
There was a short time where the spot where we were swimming was relatively wave-free. There were waves to our right and left, but nothing substantial where we were. The kids immediately wanted to head for the places that had waves. So we’d swim to where the waves were, but once we got there, the waves were already fizzled out and all the action was back in the spot we’d just left.
On one trip out, I told them we were all going to practice floating. As we walked through the ankle-deep and knee-deep water, I showed them again how to lean into to the wave so it didn’t sweep them completely off their feet, which they didn’t really mind. I’ve found that kids absolutely glory in saying things like “It just knocked me on my butt!” Everybody laughs and ten minutes later we can move on with life. I’d show them how to dive into the wave, which other than being fun is a good way to get through it. They’d try and somebody would get “knocked on their butt!” again. As we’d move further out, the water got deeper and the waves got bigger. So did their efforts. So did the energy they were expending. So did their franticness.
The lesson became one of giving yourself to the ocean. “Trust the water,” we’d say. “Feel the waves” was another one. “Watch what’s coming.” They would see the small wave right in front of them, and miss the big one that was coming next.
And every once in a while, we’d find a massive wave. This rarely went well. In fact, I don’t think it ever went well. Each one took the kids by surprise. Each one shook them up. One twisted the boogie board cord tight around an arm and another cracked one of their boards. The power of those waves was crushing and terrifying. They lasted so much longer than the others and if you got stuck in it, out of control, panicked, you felt totally lost.
I spent most of my time in the water with them floating on my back. I’d rise and fall with the waves, quite comfortable. It’s not hard to see why God is so often compared to the ocean. It’s not hard to hear the lyrics of those songs and understand them in a deeper and experiential way. There I was, held upon the water of an immense and powerful thing. Such force and such gentleness all at once. To be so small in something so big. It’s not hard at all to see a glimpse of God’s love in the ocean, of grace in those waves.
Floating there, between the waves, rising and falling with the breathing of the ocean, I reflected on those thoughts.
I’ve spent much time fighting against God, exerting myself and over-working myself, exhausting myself only to get nowhere.
I’ve left my space to find something somewhere else only to realize I’m too late. In my efforts to find, I actually lose. Had I only waited, I would have been found by what I was waiting for and it’s always better to be found than to find.
I’ve been knocked on my butt more than once. And I don’t always laugh it off. That’s one that needs a bit more practice.
And I’ve wandered into deeper waters than I was prepared for.
I’ve struggled trusting the oceans of God. I’ve struggled trusting the vast sea of His presence, the wide expanse of His grace, the depths of His love, and the immense and consuming space of His will. I’ve struggled trusting that I, floating small on those waters, matter at all.
I’ve missed blessings because I wasn’t looking in the right place at the right time. Or because I accepted small when He was giving so much more.
I’ve gone under. I’ve been wrecked by Him. I’ve encountered a power and a presence so much stronger than I was ever taught or shown. I’ve been swept beneath and into and twisted and even been hurt because I’ve tried to control it. Because I’ve come into the ocean with my plans and there’s no room for them there. Because I’ve come with my stuff and with my junk to do what I wanted to do and that’s not how the ocean works. That’s not how God works at all.
He is power, yet He holds each of us. He is presence, yet even as we float in Him we wonder where He is. He is immense and intimate, reaching as far as we can see yet still with and within us. He is forceful and gentle, sometimes at the same time. He is deeper than we will ever know and can ever go, yet He graciously shows us more and more of Himself. We play in Him. We rest in Him. We struggle in Him. We yearn for Him. We search in Him and we are found in Him. We are found by Him.
These are thoughts from the waves. May each of us learn more and more to give ourselves to the ocean. More than that, may we give ourselves more and more to the Father.