Do you ever remember swimming in the ocean as a young kid? Your parents might have said something about the undertow or current, about being careful and staying in front of them . . . to be honest, most of us may have heard what they said, but I know for me, I didn’t listen; I just wanted to go out and swim. Having a pool in my grandparent’s back yard, my brothers and I grew up swimming and spent many summer nights with wrinkly skin, water in the ears and blood shot chlorine eyes from the hours upon hours of swimming we did during the day. We were never fearful of this “current” this “undertow” that we were warned about, and thought we could handle whatever the ocean threw at us. (Well, anything but jelly fish---but that’s a whole other story!)
I remember swimming out past the waves and having a blast. Not paying attention to anything but the ball we were throwing around, or the big slashes we would try to cover one another in, or the random sand rockets that could be coming at your face at any given moment. It wasn’t until you were ready to give the ocean a rest, that you realized you had drifted; sometimes so far that the “familiar” was nowhere in sight. In those first few seconds of realization, panic sets in. The first thought? Swim back to the familiar. But often, that current and undertow that held no power prior to entering its arena, is now too much, too powerful to escape its drift that is pulling you away from all you know. In exhaustion you catch a wave to the shore, hopeless and defeated. You climb out from the water, and you notice something you didn’t see in the midst of your panic. Your mom, or dad, or grandparent waiting right there to take your hand and bring you back to the familiar, back to safety, back home.
I’m not sure exactly when I started to head into the ocean, and I can tell you it was not a sprint into the water. I am sure it started with just the dipping of the toes, and then maybe letting the waves break at my knees. From there, I am sure I started jumping the waves all together until I managed to get past them into the still water. It is out in what appeared to be “still” water that I began swimming in the land of talk radio for the morning commute vs. the “Jesus Jams” that usually fill the car. I’ve been dodging the sand rockets of morning prayers for those few extra moments of staying snuggly in bed. I left the studying and the reading lingering on the beach while I swam in letting the TV decompress my day each evening. I’ve floated on the raft of new love, Sunday morning church, and my career vs. finding the peace in seeking after Him with all of my heart, soul and mind.
And as I stood in an old theatre, on a beautiful Sunday morning, surrounded by everything unfamiliar on the streets of Brooklyn, watching people worship uninhibited, that moment of realization hit.
I had drifted.
I spent the next week, not wanting to ride that wave of defeat to the shore, but determined to swim against the current that had carried me away. I remained immersed in the ocean, fooled by the still water that I was making progress and heading back to my beach towel that now was out of sight and miles up the beach. As the week moved forward my “career raft” got a leak, my snuggly morning moments were making me late and rushed, and talk radio seemed to peak my irritability. I wasn’t moving. I wasn’t getting any closer to where I desired to be by staying in and fighting that water.
This past Sunday, as I headed into the doors of a familiar place unexpectedly, and found a seat in a familiar room, I bowed my head in exhaustion, and road that wave into the shore, hopeless and defeated that I would be able to find my way back.
As I bowed my head in prayer, I heard the invitation that called Jesus to come in and to touch our lives.
I needed that.
I wanted that.
I prayed that.
As worshipped filled that familiar place, His presence in that room was indescribable.
He was there.
Arm stretched. Ready to hold my hand, and lead me home.
As a kid, maybe things changed after you realized the warnings given before entering the ocean held some real value. Perhaps you tuned a closer ear to “the safety patrol” watching you from the shore and heeded to their warnings before you became swept away in dangerous waters. Maybe you no longer headed out in false confidence, but begged someone stronger and wiser to venture out with you. Or maybe this was a lesson that has had to be learned over and over.
I’ll be honest, I seem to end up here a lot more than I would like to admit.
I forget how easily this world can steal your focus, how it can distort your view of priorities and convince you that stability is founded in careers, salary, mortgages, relationships, beauty, and in every temporal thing this earth has to offer.
I was reminded Sunday that I have given my life to a God who is the Great I Am, a God who is stable, never changing and a God who is always watching and extending His arm, holding my hand as we run this good race, and there waiting when I forget that He is all I need in this world.