For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me… (2 Samuel 22:5).
Your wrath lies heavily upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves (Psalms 88:7).
I have many times stood upon the shore of a peaceful Atlantic ocean gazing East to the sunrise, pondering the vastness and the depth of God. This was not one of those times.
Today, I wanted to catch some fish. It was my only two hours of alone time during the whole week of family vacation to Isle of Palms. I decided to bike down to the point I’d walked to earlier that morning. This was mistake number one. I popped the chain on that old bike about half-way down the beach, and ended up having to push it the rest of the way with one hand while holding my fishing pole (and trying not to hook myself) with the other.
When I finally got there the waves had risen to a height I’d not encountered in any of my last four seasons on Atlantic beaches. I could barely cast my lure over them, and if I did succeed, I’d soon get knocked over. So, alright. You know what? I’ve been wanting a showdown. “Let’s see whatchya got,” I said, to either myself, God, or the forces of nature. I took my pole back to shore and I waded out to war.
I adopted my best linebacker stance and stood up to the 6-foot waves as best I could. I tried body surfing and nearly swallowed a gallon or two of seawater. I tried jumping over, diving under, and shouldering through. And while I was doing all of it I was telling God or whoever would listen how hard a time I’d been having of it (“Sure,” you’re saying, “a week of luxury beach vacation with the family, you’re really struggling.” But it’s true).
Why do I put on weight so easily? Why do you not seem to hear me anymore? Why am I not satisfied in my soul? Why do my simplest desires – like to ride a bike down a beach and catch a fish – result in such discouraging and powerful setbacks? Why is my faith bruised and how do I start to care for the people of God again? Huh?!
Nothing. Just wave after wave after pounding after pounding.
The good news is I was exhausting myself, getting this out of my system, and ‘praying.’ That I was again getting a sense of myself in this rough place called The World and how puny I am in relation to the created universe.
The bad news is I was becoming more dejected. When I finally gave up and told God I recognized his bigness and my smallness, I sat in the surf and tried to really connect, to really give it all to him, to really make this the milestone day from which everything was different for the rest of my life.
But it was just words. Nothing seemed to rise. I couldn’t make my heart climb into my prayers. And I couldn’t figure out how or when I had lost it, or what to do about it.
I paced to shore defeated and dejected. What progress had I made? At best today was a humbling, at worst a humiliation. My head drooped, and I looked down.
What I saw further discouraged me. For a length of several yards, the shallow foam washing back out was running at the same pace as my strides walking back in. The optical illusion was one of getting nowhere. Moving, but remaining in the same place.
That’s when, finally, this: “You know you’re making progress. You know, despite how it looks, that you’re getting closer to shore with every step. Likewise, today was progress. Tomorrow will be a step. As will the next. My grace is a wave infinitely more powerful and cleansing than these, and My footprints don’t wash away.”
I sighed, but I smiled. “Step by step you lead me, and I will follow you all of my days…” Step-by-step is exactly how I got home that day, beaten, extremely chafed, shoeless, pushing a bike and carrying a pole. And, I'm happy to report, that’s exactly how I’m getting back home in my spirit as well.