I went to the beach last week. And when I took one of my morning walks, I remembered I wrote something two winters ago and never shared it. The words of this piece (edited slightly for length) came even before I posted this quote from one of my favorite authors.
The ocean will always stir things up in me, as it may do for you. I hope you have places where this resonates.
My family traveled to the Gulf Coast nearly every summer as I grew up. We always drove the 12 hours by van, complete with a car-top carrier and sometimes an extra vehicle. I remember mere minutes into the trip, we’d scratch off the lottery tickets my dad would buy for all of us, the shrieks of success over $2.00 victories that we probably forgot to cash in when we returned home.
By the end of the drive, the van smelled a bizarre smell I can only describe as peanut M&M’s and Lifesaver gummy rings and the occasional whiff of worn socks. Stepping out into the salty air to catch the view of the sea upon arrival was a welcomed relief.
This pattern is familiar. The smell, too, is familiar. But I never get used to the moment when my toes hit the sand, steps slowing on the walk to the ocean. I immediately wonder how many grains I’m crossing over and how deeply underground the crabs live and how in the world did we get beaches?
The ocean turns me into a curious student, eager to learn and re-learn what it means to be made small.
Encountering smallness, I’m confronted with the reality that the world is more complex than the one orbiting around my day-to-day. It’s greater than my morning coffee and evening wine, my most fantastical wishes and dysfunctional relationships and bouts of insecurity.
This smallness is no new thing. Escaping ourselves to recognize the universe was created by a God who loves it is as old as time, and we know the world doesn’t revolve around us, obviously. But I seem to need the reminder now and then.
The ocean, for one, gives me that reminder. I stand in the place where my feet slowly submerge into the sand’s density and study the waves – the foamy, bubbling pool left over from the crest that never really seems to recede. More water slinks back under it and comes up over it, but it never leaves. Those waves are constant, reliable and exist entirely without my help.
There is nothing I can do to help the waves keep coming throughout the day; there is nothing I can do to settle them down when my little nephews want to feel a bit safer in the vastness.
In that lack of control, I am made small.
I remember during one trip laying on a towel as the sun was sinking, my head tilted back to get this wacky, front row seat of the horizon. I wondered how many miles out I was viewing. How long a drive? Looking left and right, I was convinced I was witnessing the literal downslope of the earth, its curvature settling on either side.
But I know I cannot see the actual ends of the earth, because I am too small. And yet, here I am, this little creature surviving – daydreaming and reading books and eating pretzel twists – existing in a world that completely does not depend on me to keep things running smoothly.
We tend to overestimate our control, don’t we?
We reject smallness. We rely on ourselves to be independent and powerful and in control because to forfeit those things is to become vulnerable, to need other people, to need a God that holds all things in His hands and at the same time confess that we don’t understand how all those things fit together.
What I’m coming to understand is that the more opportunities I take to be small, to crouch in humility and recover my wonder and admit, “I can’t do this on my own,” the more clearly I see God show up in my little orbit.
As often as I can, I’ll return to the sea, palms up to receive her gifts. I’ll release control and delight in the spaces of freedom, the burden to orchestrate it all, lifted.