what the sea teaches

An unusually cool breeze drifts across the patio, and I find myself pausing to observe the world around me, Nickel Creek strumming their way through my headphones to provide soundtrack songs for this July morning.

Just a couple of hours ago, an intense feeling of loneliness and discouragement came out of nowhere and seized my heart. I started scrolling through my Instagram feed, just to see what has happened in the past 10 hours (during most of which the world was asleep), and as I put down my phone I felt left out. I suppose people I love are scattered over lots of places right now, and when I am not with them or even just not doing my own exciting thing, I somehow feel like my life is less. Even though just six weeks ago I was the one posting images and statuses from my own adventures.

Cyclists and joggers pass me on the bike trail. Murmurings of business meetings and friends catching up over coffee surround me, and my eyes move from people-watching to the dance of the tree branches above me. Words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh marinade internally, slowly finding their way into my own life.

     And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense–no–but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channelled whelk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.

But it must not be sought for or–heaven forbid!–dug for. No, no dredging of the sea-bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach– waiting for a gift from the sea.

I confess – I like the digging. I like the feeling of tired hands and dirty nails, the things that prove that I worked hard to earn a reward. I am high performance and crave A+ papers and gold stars and pats on the back.

So quickly, though, I find myself exhausted. I am digging for significance, for meaning, for a sense of community in my daily life, and while I like the control of being able to earn my way, it’s not life-giving. I feel like I am digging and proving I am good at digging, but at the end of the day the things I have to show for my efforts are burnout, unmet expectations, never enough.

Being able to receive the gift from the sea requires one to just be present at the shore, to set up a chair or a towel and lather on sunscreen and just watch for what washes up at your feet. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches.

Isn’t that the beauty of a gift, that it is freely given, that you don’t work to earn what someone wants to place in your hands? Isn’t the concept of a gift where we get our understanding of grace? Isn’t there a certain joy in discovering a gift, a joy that cannot be found in the working for it? 

As I processed my digging efforts, I realized I needed to get rid of the spades and buckets I have been using to dig. I temporarily removed Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter apps from my phone. Not because I am super spiritual, as I often feel others are when they make that choice, but because I am not disciplined enough to leave those digging tools just sitting in the sand next to me, and playing on my phone is where it normally starts. I will need them soon when school starts up and college students are back in town, but for the next three weeks, I am going to be present. I am going to sit at the shore and enjoy the salty sting of waves against bare feet, the warmth of rays, the grit of sand. I want to have face to face conversations to hear about friends’ travels, and I want to have phone conversations with those long-distance. I want to spend my evenings reading books, not comparing the activities of my day to others’ own. I want to see my life not through a filtered image with a picture that has been perfectly staged, but through the daily grind of boring and basic but beautiful.

The ever-wise Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “We accept and thank God for what is given, not allowing the not-given to spoil it.” Today, my place to offer thanks is a quiet, uneventful one. But if the trees can dance despite their roots keeping them stuck in one spot, I can too.

So while I write this from the landlocked Ozarks, I am learning what the sea teaches. No dredging of the sea-bottom here. Patience, patience, patience. Patience and faith.

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