Last year my Toby was absolutely terrified of the ocean. Like “wouldn’t go anywhere near where the water might happen to touch him and would cry with nervousness even watching his brothers go in” terrified.
It took us by surprise. We’re straight up beach people. We love it and none of our boys had ever been afraid of the ocean before, including Toby…in fact they have always seem to come even more alive when we’re near it.
Our Toby has always loved water and has never been timid around form of it. Still, something spooked my boy last summer and he could not be reasoned with. He was straight up Afraid with a capital A. He wouldn’t go anywhere near the waves during our family summer vacation. Wouldn’t let the tide touch him during our little fall getaway. And still kept his distance when we spent the day at the shore last Easter.
Give him a pool or creek or lake and he would transform into a little fish. Give him the ocean and he turned into a ghost crab digging his own little hole in the sand…far, far, far from where the waves might touch him.
As parents, this concerned us. Not just because we were hoping he would enjoy something that brought the rest of us joy. Not just because we felt like he was missing out. But because we were concerned for his little heart.
We always thoughtfully select a book to purchase and write in for each of the boy’s birthdays…so for Toby’s 4th birthday this past March, we bought him Max Lucado’s The Boy and the Ocean.
The book is beautifully illustrated and compares God’s great big love for us to the ocean, the mountains, and the sky.
We began to pray that our 4 year old boy would not only gain understanding of God’s great big love for him, but that the ocean would begin to remind him of that love. And that he wouldn’t be afraid of it. Not only that, but that looking at the ocean would bring him confidence, knowing the God of the Universe knows his name and cares deeply for him. We specifically began praying 1 John 4:18…that God’s perfect love for our boy would cast out all fear.
Four months later we packed up for our annual family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Though we had talked and prayed about it a lot, we were still uncertain what Toby’s beach experience this time would be like. Upon arriving at our rental house and waiting for the rest of our family members to arrive, Toby very matter-of-factly declared, “Mama, I’m not going to be afraid of the waves this year.”
I wanted to believe him. I really did. But Mama wasn’t quite sure.
But then I watched him walk across the street and up over the sand dune. I watched a smile stretch across his face when he could finally see the ocean. I watched him walk confidently through the sand and wait patiently for his Daddy to put down our things. And as I watched him take steps toward the shoreline, I saw in him a brief hesitation, as if he had to stop and make a conscious decision whether to go further or run away. I saw the smile fade for a second and a reminder of the fear flash before his little green eyes.
But then I saw him keep going.
Oh, my eyes are filling with tears even as I think of it. He walked right up to the Atlantic Ocean. He let it touch his feet, lap against his knees, and christen his skin.
And I saw him laugh. With such delight that I didn’t think his smile could possibly get any bigger. As the evening sunlight glistened in his hair, he ran up and down and back and forth along the shore line with such excitement that his little brother began imitating his every move and every noise.
Adam and I watched in awe…with smiles, I’m sure, that were even bigger than our boy’s.
That week was such a joy. He got in the ocean every day. We watched him dance and sing and jump and belly laugh. We saw waves knock him over and we saw him get back up again. We held him as we went out a little deeper and taught him to doggie paddle through the calm water and brace himself for the mountains and valleys and currents of the waves. He made me enjoy my own time at the beach more than I ever remember enjoying it before.
But as we returned home and I looked through the photos of him with his sun kissed skin, squinty eyes and cheeky smile, I was convicted about my own recent moments of panic and fear. Whether it had been with my pregnancy or our ministry or my parenting, there had (and still have) been distinct moments this summer when I saw that same panic flash before my eyes. In those moments I had very much felt like Simon Peter, who confidently stepped out of the boat – so sure of Who he was following, sure of where he was going – but for a moment looked around him at the wind and waves and suddenly panicked and began to sink in his doubt and fear.
Those times when I questioned His calling, His control, or His care. When I couldn’t see how it all “fit” or I wanted to escape the “hard”. When my tears blurred my view of the Truth and the waves felt neither fun nor exciting nor calming.
The Psalmist seemed to know that same fear in Psalm 93…
“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods have lifted up their roaring.” (Psalm 93:3)
Tim Keller points out in his devotional The Songs of Jesus that in Biblical times the sea was feared as “the source of chaos and the habitat of monsters”. It was beyond their understanding. Beyond their control. Beyond their sense of peace.
But the Psalmist continues…
“Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is MIGHTY!” ( Psalm 93:4)
Rather than choosing to fear the rising waters and the tumultuous waves, he chose to remember the One Who was (and IS) absolute over it all.
I’ve been convicted about what my recent panic and fear revealed about what my heart is really worshipping – what other “gods” I’m ascribing ultimate worth and value to – when HE should be (and ultimately IS) above it all. Psalm 95 describes this…
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King ABOVE ALL GODS.” (Psalm 95:3)
My fear reveals what I hold tightest and most dear. My kids. My ministry. My family. My control. My plans. My approval by others. My “success”.
my. My. MY.
“In HIS hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are HIS also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)
But ultimately they’re not mine at all. They’re His. And HE holds them in His hands. The gifts, the joys, and even the scary seas. They are HIS and are in HIS strong, capable, and loving hands. These things that were made to point to Him. To glorify Him. To lead me to worship Him for Who HE is and what HE has done.
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)
Just as we prayed that the sea and the waves would remind our boy of God’s great love and power and lead him to awe and worship, I need to pray the same thing for myself. I think Paul had the same thing in mind when he prayed for the Ephesians…
“…that you – being rooted and grounded IN LOVE, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the
and to know the LOVE OF CHRIST that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
What surpasses and dismisses and casts out all fear? What will naturally lead my heart and mind to worship the only One worth worshipping?
Knowing and dwelling on the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s great love for me – expressed through His ultimate gift of grace: Christ’s death and resurrection. All done for ME.
Here I can see the waves not as chaos or monsters, but as opportunities to grow my faith, to shape the landscape of my character, to dive more deeply into the gospel, and to swim confidently and safely in and through those very seas with my Father.
Here I can enjoy the gifts, soak in the refreshment, and stand in awe of the One Who created them and gave them in the first place.
Here I can dance…and dare I say, even laugh with joy…knowing a Love that
is always here
is always deep
that never ends.
And though the tide and current may change, my God and His love for me never will. He’s never failed. And He won’t start now.
“He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not always with Him graciously give us all things?…
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or sword?…
NO. In ALL these things we are more than conquerors through Him who LOVED US. For I am SURE that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION, will be able to separate us from the LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.”
“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”
– Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United