Ever been through a dry spiritual season? Without exception, we all have. Some of us are there now.
The place where God’s voice seems muffled under the din of mind noise. Oh my Lord, such mind noise!
Faith made stale by either struggle or monotony…because let’s be honest, both can really make us feel small and lost.
Swimming is a great therapy for me. It soothes my janky joints and relaxes my tense muscles. One of my favorite places in the world is the beach, and we are fortunate to live minutes away from the Atlantic ocean. When I go to the coast and scan the vast horizon, it reminds me how tiny we humans are.
But when I get in the water and swim, I’m in another world. It is a soft, enveloping womb – the ocean. I get immersed, letting the gentle current carry my floating form. I like to swim out past where my feet can feel the bottom. When I go with my adult kids, they are forever telling me, “Mom! That’s deep enough!” It’s funny how the roles have somehow reversed.
One of the most fabulous things about a faith walk is that even when you trip up, you still always know where true North lies. Navigating by the Heavens is tried and true, predictable and concise. Sometimes when I trip, I stay down on the ground and have a little spiritual tantrum, refusing to get up for a bit.
But when I come back from a dark place, my worship is fresh and welcome to my Papa God. Just like dipping into the cool waters of the sea, I’m not small but significant. I’m part of the water, and it’s part of me.
That’s all it takes to get my mind right – worship. And worship isn’t always about flashy church worship bands, or getting the lyrics right. It can be about seeking Him in nature. It can be about a long conversation with him – trusting Him to hear us is an act of worship. Noticing the tiny things that are beautiful and miraculous. Because the miraculous surrounds us every day, if we take time to look for it.
I have offered up some of my best worship while floating on the surface of the salty sea. Words fail me at times. But He is as close as my breath as I admire His handiwork.
When I am spiritually dry, He isn’t waiting on me to get it right to respond. He is in that dark place beside me, within me as Holy Spirit. I am not small and lost, but infinitely valuable to my Creator, and so are you. So much so, that He is in us and around us, guiding our flotsam and steering our jetsam. Interestingly, the definition of “jetsam” is: “unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore, especially material that has been discarded to lighten the vessel.” He wants to lighten our burdens! What a God we serve.
Immerse yourself in Pure Love and be reminded that you were not designed to admire the vast love from a safe place. You were born to learn that trust makes us weightless.
That’s how I think about God – He desires that I don’t stay on the shore, but dive in and trust Him fully, even when our “feet” don’t touch the bottom.
As some of you know, I’ve recently had major surgery. Before my post-op appointment with the surgeon, I formulated a list of questions to ask him. At the top of that list was when I was cleared to visit the beach and swim in the ocean. To my delight, he advised me that it would be just fine to do so now, just as long as I am careful not to get hit in the chest with a full-on wave. I went to the beach the very next day.
The waters are calm, except for the roll of waves near the shore passing over an underwater sand bar. Those waves, known as ‘breakers’ for breaking over sand, can be quite high and strong, even as they form in otherwise calm waters. Still, my need to be suspended in the ocean is great.
It’s been that way since I got sober nearly 15 years ago. The ocean was my church in some of the more difficult early times of recovery. My daughters and I lived in a tiny garage apartment across the street from the beach for some of that time. In periods of great stress, I would venture to the waters and swim until I exhausted myself and my means of anxiety. In times of pain – physical and emotional – swimming became therapy. I’d swim out so far that the houses on the shore appeared like tiny, colorful boxes instead of million-dollar homes. My problems shrunk much the same way. It gave me perspective. Seawater had an almost tranquilizing effect on my spirit. And that I could commune with God on a whole other uncomplicated level out there in the water. A passer-by walking on the beach may have just seen a little head bobbing around out in deep water, a crazy person talking to herself. But God always meets me there in the water. Sometimes the crazy person talking to herself is just pouring her heart out to The Father in prayer.
When my children would suffer a scraped knee or a bout with eczema, my answer was the same. “You just need to get salt water on it.”
Salt water heals everything.
But today – in order to reach that place of suspension – I have to get through the rough breakers without disobeying doctor’s orders. I have to get to the good place by going through the bad place (where oh where have I experienced this phenomenon before?)
Donning my standard-issue, middle-age woman black one-piece bathing suit, I approach the edge of the sea. At the edge, the water is ebbing and flowing in calm and clear. My toes rejoice at the familiar chill and I cannot wait to go deeper. Ankle-deep now I stand, watching the sand gently sucked out around my feet at each tidal recession. It is a warm day, and the coolness of the water is beyond refreshing. At knee-depth, the waves start to get a little rougher, I am only several feet from the sand bar that is causing their swelling. I reconsider this foray into the ocean, shrinking back a bit from the prospect of the breakers and their impact on my still-tender surgical wounds.
But I can see the waters on the other side, and they are resplendently lake-like! They are smooth and perfect. I wish I could just jump over the harsh breakers like a dolphin, skip over the rough and powerful waves. Or walk through them careless of the consequences, all que sera sera-like. I try to will them to calm, angry that they might send me home without my satisfying swim before I ever get the chance to have it.
I just need to get salt water on it, on my spirit. (Oh, and my surgical wounds too, salt water heals everything.)
Nirvana is just past this sand bar!
I cannot see the sand bar under the waves that is causing the ocean commotion, but I know it is there because of what I see manifest. High waves, churning waters. I’m afraid to move forward in case a wave slams me and afraid to go back and miss a great thing.
Eventually, the desire to move past the crashing breakers is greater than the desire to be afraid to go through them. I turn my back to the ocean to take the waves to the least painful part of my body, but I press on, walking backwards. I can hear them forming behind me, a great sizzling – the sound of water stacking more of itself on high.
Up against my backside. I feel the bar of sand rise as the water gets shallower. Move faster now, I tell myself. The longer you hang out on the bar, the more opportunities the waves have to knock you down. I keep walking backward.
More water, nearly knocking me over. I balance myself the best I can, and keep going. The last wave over the breakers is powerful, nearly taking me with it toward shore, losing all that ground. But then, one more step backward and I float back into complete calm. It is as if I had fallen into a brand new fluid venue. The breakers are still breaking, but they are none of my concern now! Every muscle in my body un-kinks and oxygen fills my lungs. Ah, I just needed to get salt water on it.
I lie back and float, enjoying the weightlessness of both my body and soul. The only sound I hear is the a gentle water moving over my body. Like a band of angels playing the triangles. This is the only place for me that quiets my mind long enough to hear angels play triangles. My mind hardly ever shuts up.
On this day, I’m not able to swim like I am accustomed to yet – making great arcs with my arms and wide kicks with my legs, and actually getting from one spot to another. My body is still healing, so I make only little motions. A head bobbing about awkwardly in the Atlantic Ocean, making little velociraptor-like arm movements and talking to herself. No matter. The healing is the same.
And right on schedule, God meets me there. He had been with me in the breakers, too. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ever made it to the other side! He is ALWAYS in the breakers with me. But in this place of having come through, I could feel His presence fully.
The beach is my big, messy prayer closet. I can try to talk to God in my living room, and I often do, with mixed results (thanks, ADD.) But covered in sand and swimming in the sea? I can tune into the frequency of The Creator. My noisy spirit communing with God on a whole other uncomplicated level out there in the water. Truth be told, it is one place where I am not finding fault with myself. I’m weightless, floating in an amniotic sac of what feels like pure love. The sun is warming my face, kissing new freckles to the surface. I am not finding fault with myself, I am too busy loving God.
There are a million breakers we all must somehow overcome. Addiction, divorce, abuse, depression. Perhaps you cannot see your own private “sand bar” under the waves that is causing the instability, the commotion. You only know it there because of what it manifests in your spirit.
Looking at the shore from my new Heavenly vantage point – the colorful boxes – I am considering the importance of occasionally distancing oneself from the usual. I think about The Breakers in life, the rolling and smashing seasons that every single one of us has to move through. Try as we might, we cannot casually leap over them, or barreled through them on our own terms and come out in one piece. These times when we feel we are getting sucked under and smashed? Giving up and turning back isn’t always an option, nor should it be.
Do you feel that pull on your spirit? The desire to move past the crashing breakers steadily getting stronger than the fear of going through them? Guard your most painful parts, but press on. You may get knocked down. Get back up. God is not just waiting for you in the calm waters but accompanying you in those crazy, awful waves that take you from one place to another. He doesn’t expect you to do it all by yourself.
Can see the other side. Isn’t it resplendent?
For each of the million waves trying to knock you down, there is a place that your spirit lets down it’s guard. It’s where your body un-kinks and oxygen fills your lungs. You will know you are there when you are too busy loving God to find fault in yourself.
It is the place or activity that brings you peace! You will only know where that space is by going through the breakers.
Perhaps gardening in soft, warm dirt, if that’s your thing. Or working with animal rescues, or in creating needlework. Or perhaps while wearing hiking boots, or picking up pen and paper. Find that sweet spot and go there every chance you get. GOD DELIGHTS IN YOU.
My seventeen-year-old daughter made an interesting comment about the supposed Mayan Doomsday prophesy: “If the Mayans were so smart, why didn’t they see the Spaniards coming?”
When I was her age, the Social Studies teacher made our class watch a 1983 movie about post-nuclear war life called “The Day After”. I had my first anxiety attack that same afternoon, because sooner or later this is very likely to happen and how can everybody just carry on living normally after KNOWING that this was likely to happen? I wanted to stand under a street lamp with a sign warning everyone that THE END IS NEAR! I had nightmares for years, and my walk with the Lord suffered from neglect because I was too busy wringing my hands to fold them in prayer.
But the world kept spinning like a crazy merry-go-round anyway, and I had to learn to hold on.
Oh how we humans like to believe that SOMEBODY on earth has a clue about our future! Maybe not the crazy Hale-Bopp Comet chasers (remember them?) or Pat Robertson or the paranoid Doomsday Preppers, but SOMEBODY.
If the world really ended this month, I would mostly carry on as I am now.The priorities are getting to know the God that I will spend eternity with, loving people to the best of my ability and letting them know that this planet we call home is NOT ‘all there is’.
I would probably eat more chocolate if I knew the end was near – a LOT more chocolate, watch the sunset from the North End more often, finish the My Name is Earl collection I (selfishly) got my husband for Christmas last year. I would spend more time laughing in general, because so much of life is absurd.
Ironically, it has always been on the bottom-end of my bucket list to learn all of the words to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as we Know it” and not just sing out the words “that’s great, it starts with an earthquake”, “Lenny Bruce” and “Leonard Bernstein”. (Who IS ‘Lenny Bruce’, anyway?) But really, if we only have eight days to live, I could die without knowing the lyrics and be okay with it.
The truth is that life on this planet will end one day, that life as we know it is already over because it changes every day. The only future I am secured is life in Christ, but really – that’s the only life that matters. The merry-go-round will stop and let us off where we are meant to be.
The Bible says that nobody knows when that will occur. We really can’t see the “Spaniards” coming in advance, we just have to learn how to hold on.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[fbut only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24:36-44 (NIV)
Today, I reminded about showing compassion to those who may not “deserve” it. I made a dumb mistake, you see.
It’s the blisters that are reminding me. Or maybe the skin on my nose and shoulders that has turned the deep crimson hue of a good Merlot. I have a bad sunburn, and all I want to do for the moment is wrap up in soft sheets and whine about the pain. Maybe even moan a little. And eat chocolate.
What… You never heard that chocolate has healing properties?
I am nearly forty-four years of age. I know better. I’ve been a fair-skinned red-head all of my life, and this is not the first time I’ve been severely sunburned.
The other day, my Beloved and I took a day-trip to the beach and we only intended to stay for an hour or two.
But as if by some act of divine mercy, we found a spot on the shore that was nearly deserted (by at least twenty feet on either side) and the sky was a wide blue with nary a cloud to block the glorious rays of the sun! A breeze from the ocean blew gently and cool (but warm for October) against us, making us forget that…hey, there are no clouds to block the sun.
We had even remembered to put up the beach umbrella!
Not that we stayed under it for very long.
When we did get warm-ish sitting under the wide blue sky, we walked down to the water – holding hands. And although the ocean was a bit chilly at first, the initial “yikes!” gave way to a cooling ahhhhhhh until we were neck deep and free-floating.
On an October day, no less!
We swam until we were tired and then walked back to the beach chairs in the sun, enjoying the sensation of water evaporating off of our skin. Conversation, laughter, sunshine, water. And then again. And then again.
Until we – satiated and out of cold beverages – headed home.
And then, over the next few hours, our bodies turning burgundy, thought “Hmmm. Maybe we should have used sunblock.” We did think about it a few times.
But it’s OCTOBER, my mind protested stubbornly. As if one cannot possibly get sunburned in the fall, the way one cannot possibly wear white after Labor Day. My mind, which felt increasingly like an egg fried underneath my crimson scalp relented. Excuses, excuses…and then a painful consequence. And now the moaning.
You did this to yourself.
Wandering through Wal-Mart later on a quest for aloe lotion, I see the stares from people thinking, Well, she should know better. Or worse…..Tourist!
Judging is easy….the smug realization that whatever painful, blistering circumstance a person might be in – they brought it on themselves. I’m getting better at not judging, but sometimes it’s still a challenge. Because when we see homelessness, addiction, a pregnant teenager or even celebrities who struggle with consequences – sometimes our first thoughts are not of compassion:
You know, that could have been avoided.
Don’t you know better?
That was a dumb mistake.
And while all of these things are possibly true, the resulting pain is still pitiful. God may shake his head with frustration over us – the stubborn ones – but he still gathers us up in soft sheets of compassion. He expects us – as if by His divine mercy – to do the same. Even when one’s mistake is out there for all the world to see. No excuses necessary….just love.
Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.
Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him. -James 5:1-15(The Message)
Do you ever worry about how you will meet your needs – financially – and in every other way? Like there is a drought in the middle of the ocean in some area of your life? Do you ever feel like water, water everywhere but not a fish in sight?
The story in the Bible’s book of James became manifest to me in a way I could see, hear and touch during an evening trip to the beach last month. My husband had come home from work stressed out and I’d been writing bills, so we decided to load the jeep with a couple of chairs and journey the 15 minutes to the seashore.
Ahhhh. Restorative salt air eased our moods right away.
And then, gazing out on the water, we noticed a single fish jump – and then another and another. They were swimming quickly northward and popping out of the water as they raced, some as big as a foot long. There were hundreds, which became thousands within moments. And the most amazing thing happened. As we looked into the transparent, glassy, green waves breaking in the light of the setting sun, each was filled with fish! End to end, big silver fish formed a visible wall of life under the surface. And they kept coming – millions of shimmery fish making the waves silver, leaping and splashing. The water was lousy with fish! For a couple of hours, we sat and watched the miracle. Let’s go for a swim, I suggested. So, for a glorious time, my husband and I floated amongst the fish, trying to keep still so that they wouldn’t be disturbed. In all of my years living near the water, I had never experienced anything like it.
I’m sure that there is an explanation for the phenomenon, some migration pattern that science can explain, but for me – it was a miracle. I had been in my own pattern of worry / pray / worry / pray for months. Worried about our finances, about the economy. That day I felt so comforted, remembering Jesus and his complaining brethren, who – when asked to trust Him – said, “Ok, but we’ve already been working on it with no results.” (At this point I imagine Jesus doing a face-palm and thinking, aye carumba!)
“Trust me anyway,” he says, in essence. That’s important.
The reality is that in God’s economy, there is no drought. Our needs – so radically different from our “wants” – are met despite our concern that our nets might come up “empty”.
If I’m meeting my needs – financial or otherwise – I have good reason to worry. With not a “fish” in sight sometimes, I could easily see only drought of supply in the vast ocean. Not even a minnow!
But Jesus is my portion and prize. And His provision is perfect, trustworthy. When I’ve worried about my needs and He has (again) supplied them, I always wish I had employed more faith. “Jesus!” my spirit says, “I’m sorry …. I’m a sinner, and I can’t handle this holiness!”
And after declaring aye carumba! He steers my boat back to shore and says “Folow me.”
Oh how I love Him.
I’ve never experienced anything like the grace and provision He gives….miraculous.
What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
The other day, while sitting on the beach at sunset, I felt God’s presence in an especially tangible way. Almost automatically, little kernels of prayer started expanding in my mind until each exploded like popcorn – all competing to fill that beautiful space with request.
Quiet your mind, I felt The Father tell my spirit. And I realized the difference between prayer and meditation (to my heart):
Prayer is making request to God while I have his attention.
Meditation is making my spirit quiet enough for Him to have my full attention. And that isn’t easy.
Of course, we always have the ear and heart of the Lord; sometimes we feel it more acutely. I’m reminded of the scripture about being still and knowing I am not God:
“Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” – Psalm 46:10 (The Message)
I really needed to read that, because in this political season my emotions are popping as well.
Above everything, I have to deliberately turn my attention to God; take a long, loving look at Him above everything else. Meditate on His goodness, which is overflowing….He is good ALL the time.
I’ll take a step and its right behind me
Always fighting for control
There’s a war that’s raging inside me
I feel the battle for my soul
It’s like my shadow is dragging me around
And You are my only way out – Casting Crowns, My Own Worst Enemy
Yesterday – all morning – I felt like God’s red-headed stepchild. I was being a brat, really – acting ugly.
It wasn’t because of anything He did or said, but because of my mind-set. My brain chemistry felt “off” and my hormonal balance no better and I didn’t want to talk to God about it. I felt like there was a wedge between him and me because I was so messy, even though I know that’s the right thing to do. I wanted to own my little tantrum for a while, truthfully. But after a while, I got so tired of my own tirade that I agreed to go with my husband to the beach for a little while.
“Okay,” I told him. “But I’m in a really bad mood.” (To be fair, I thought he should be warned – as if the crying and crossed arms didn’t clue him in.)
As is his way, He took my hand anyway. God love him (and He does) – that man ministers to my Spirit like nobody else because he just simply walks the walk by loving. Not by preaching or nagging or alienating me. Living with me and our three nearly-adult daughters, he cannot afford to be easily spooked by a little female freak-out.
By the first hour on the shore, sunshine on our shoulders, I felt my mind-set change dramatically, and with it came an apology to my husband – and my Heavenly Father.
I’m sorry I pouted with you, I told God silently. But He was already over it. I love that He is so forgiving.
This morning, I picked up my Bible and read in the book of Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scripture reminded me that no matter how I feel on any given day (it changes constantly!), His WORD is fact. And I know that, intellectually…I’ve read it 100 times. But I am still learning to fully accept that in my spirit (it’s a journey).
It isn’t trouble or hard times, or hatred or hunger….or homelessness, bullying threats or backstabbing that makes me feel that chasm between the Father and I.
No…. It’s me. Often, I do it to myself.
Still, no matter where I stand crying, arms crossed and ornery, when I turn around He is there. The enemy tells us that we are separated from God at our worst, and we feel that it must be true. But the enemy is a liar.
Here is what The Authority says:
“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I am absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:31-39 (The Message)
He is our only way out, carrying us in an embrace.