My son is fearless in the water. I have to add these last three words, because otherwise he’s pretty cautious for a ten year old. But we live near the beach, and as much as we’ve worked to teach him to respect the ocean and it’s dangers, he wades right in and rolls his eye at mom’s worried, “Be careful!!”
The other night we were with friends at a dinner party on Tybee Island. While my friend made dinner, I took our boys down to the beach. Since the rules for children and adults at dinner parties are different, my son was dressed to play in the water and I was not. So I had to let him wade in while I waited on the sand, just dipping my toes in. No toes for him. He was out beyond the breakers before I could get the ‘Be careful!” out of my mouth.
It was a glorious experience. I stood on the beach in the presence of God watching my normally timid child challenge the mighty waters of chaos. He later told me the game he was playing: he won if the water didn’t tumble him. He was so proud that he won.
I took those 40 minutes of ocean wind whipping my hair to just enjoy watching him bob and play in the waves. Even when his friend came back to the shore to find shells, he stayed out in the water. I experienced the wind as the Spirit calling me to have faith, just as my boy had faith he was safe in that moment, surrounded by the loving arms of God’s creation. I knew God was opening my heart to trust.
On the way home in the darkness of the car, I asked him how he could be so fearless in the ocean. He looked at me like he didn’t really understand the question. “What is there to be afraid of? I know how to do this.”
He didn’t always. Just two years ago he wasn’t allowed out that far without his father or I holding his hands, teaching him when to jump, when to turn around to avoid being swamped. And what to do when he was eventually taken for a tumble by the waves. The latter you really only learn by experience, and we’d all had a few of those.
The spiritual life can seem like an ocean of chaos sometimes too. We always hear about the peacefulness of meditation, but inevitably we are swamped by the constant beating waves of our own thoughts and emotions – especially as beginners, but even when we’ve been doing it for years. I still dive in eagerly – what is there to be afraid of? I know how to do this.
You may be an expert, or you may just be yearning to begin an experience of deeper prayer and connection with God. I’ve never thought of spiritual direction as someone holding your hand as you get started – and watching from the beach once you’ve mastered the basics. But it’s a wonderful new image for me to pray with as I continue to discern my calling.
In what ways are you fearless before God? Does not knowing about something make you more cautious? What kinds of spiritual concepts and practices do you want to know more about? Who holds your hand as you’re learning?