On Thursday we spent nine hours at the beach. And for almost two of those nine hours I was in the ocean! It was absolutely delightful.
The sun was blazing hot which made the icy waves feel like a refreshingly cool blanket wrapped around me as I swam. I gained the courage to swim out farther than where I could stand up and touch the sand. And you know what? I LOVED it!
I felt free, uninhibited, and relaxed. I even started floating on my back! I discovered that the farther I went, the waves rolled softly without breaking, so I didn't have to worry about managing the waves or being tossed about. I laughed a couple of times when I thought of the visual of me bobbing around the vast ocean ... the same ocean I have avoided, and even feared, for the past two decades. It was peaceful. Quiet. The perfect place to just be ... and reflect.
Surprisingly, I did not do a lot of thinking while I was in the water.
I never really believed "not thinking" was even possible, but there is something about the ocean that puts my mind at such ease that all matter of thought ceases. And I LIKE IT!
However, once I was back on land and living daily life again, my mind kicked into full gear and I discovered an encouraging spiritual analogy about my ocean experience.
Getting IN the ocean is the hardest part.
The water is cold when it hits your skin, causing you to second guess if you actually want to keep going.
The tide may be in or out, the waves small or large ... both a determining factor in your level of commitment and bravery. Wading into soft, easy waves is one thing. Willingly moving toward hard-crashing waves is quite another.
Until you get past the break line of the waves, you get knocked around a little. Or a lot.
You swallow the salty water.
And now you have a choice:
Ditch the water and go back to the sand where everything is constant and easy, and snacks, ice water, and a cozy, warm towel await you.
Gather your courage, plunge into the cold waves, push through the break, and swim out until you get to the calm, peaceful water where you can finally cease striving - and just enjoy the beauty of the ocean.
Your eyes see far into the distance. You can observe the oncoming waves and have plenty of time to prepare for them.
You can look toward the shore and see the sand, the umbrellas, children frolicking, and hear the voices of people talking and laughing.
You are able to take in the WHOLE scene ... the good, the bad, the easy, the difficult, the simple, and the complex.
And you are quiet.
But to get to that place - you HAD to work your way through the tumult - you had to TRUST that there was something better waiting on the other side ... even though you had no proof. You had to have CONFIDENCE in your own ability to maneuver through the waves and swim on your own.
And because you did, you found success!
And now, the next time you go out, it will be even easier. You will attempt to go farther, and you will not second-guess yourself as often. It will become second nature. And before you know it, you will be inviting others to join you - teaching THEM how to push through the difficult part, encouraging them to go farther, because you know that what is waiting for them is wonderful!
And it all happened because you took that FIRST STEP.
Isn't this just like our walk with the Lord?
When we stand on the outside looking into what is required of a Christian, we see high standards required by a holy God, sacrifice, trials, suffering, the need to give up self, commitment, faithfulness, having to trust in the unseen and unknown, hurt, pain - and the need for grace.
It is overwhelming, and seemingly impossible.
We hear the crashing of the waves, but we cannot see the beauty of the calm that lies right behind.
We fear what we see, and refuse to trust in what we cannot see.
But Jesus says, "Come. I am the way, the truth, and the life. When you see me, you see the Father. I can help you do this. I can give you the courage to start, the strength to stand firm when the waves crash around you, and the perseverance to keep going - farther than you ever dreamed possible."
His hand is always extended towards us - never to be taken away.
And all we have to do is accept it, cling tightly, put one foot in front of the other, and keep our eyes focused on Him.
It is never easy.
We will look away and get thwacked by a wave.
We will choke on the bitter salt water.
We will look back towards shore, wishing we could just plop down in the sand where there are no risks or reasons to fear.
But if we keep our eyes locked on His, never let go of His hand, and trust Him without wavering ...
we will learn how to walk.
We will soon start to run.
Our strength will build.
Our confidence will increase.
We will want MORE of what we have experienced.
We will see that behind the storm there is calm.
And the longer we walk, the easier it will be to KEEP walking.
Filled with joy.
And ready to do it again and again and again.
Thank You, Lord, for being a strong and powerful God who is able and WILLING to draw us to the hard places ... the places You KNOW we need to be. We would most likely never venture out on our own, but Your kindness is like a magnet that cannot be resisted, and once we surrender to its pull, we are drawn in to a place of exceeding joy, bountiful rest, and consuming love.
Never stop pulling us to You, Lord.
Oh, how much we need You!