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Food for Thought - Musings

The Ocean

The ocean was a treasured part of my youth. Each summer I would try to get to the beach as often as I could, and as a teenager, once I purchased my own car, I would go to the beach several times a week. In fact, it was at the beach where I began my initial journey toward Jesus (a story for another time). Even now, I love to take long walks with my wife along the coast. The ocean serves as a visual aid for me of the immensity of God and of God’s love. Like a little child who stretches out their arms as far as they can and announces “this big” when asked how big God is, the ocean, for me, expresses the earth's attempt to communicate the vastness of God, but like the child’s response, even the ocean does not adequately communicate the size of God, nor the vastness of God’s love.

When my wife and I walk along the coast, we often start early in the morning, which tends to be a bit chilly and overcast; sometimes there is a little fog as well, but even that has its own charm. Sometimes those damp, chilly, overcast conditions will last all day. However, many days begin that way, but then the sun breaks through, seemingly changing everything. I must admit, I love when the sun breaks through and the ocean turns from grey to blue, the sand sparkles, the sky becomes a breathtaking blue and often the grey clouds give way to white cotton ball clouds that float upon the currents of the wind high above. The sun warms my body and my heart.

Given the choice between a warm sunny day at the beach and a cold, damp and grey day at the beach, I would choose the warm sunny day. And that would hold true in my own Christian walk as well. I love those wonderful times when the son, Jesus, is evident in my life, when worship warms my soul, the scriptures ignite my spirit, and when God’s love is palpable. Yet, that is not my everyday reality and as I read those of old who wrote about such things, it is not even the norm as one grows in their faith. As one matures in Christ, the days, weeks, months, even years of faith can be experienced as cold, damp, cloudy, and foggy. The water does not appear inviting; the sunlight is not glistening off its surface. In fact, the sun does not appear. The surf's foam no longer looks fluffy white like whipped cream, but it is dim and yellowish. The ocean is gray and angry, the waves appear menacing, the warming sun is blocked by bone chilling dampness, carefree frolicking is replaced by a sense of foreboding, and the walk becomes a plodding. Everything has changed and yet, nothing has changed, not really. Those who write about such things refer to this reality as a ‘dark night,’ a time when the sun of God’s felt presence gives way to a perceived absence of God. Yet, the sun is still there, the earth continues to stretch out its arms and declare the vastness of God and of God’s love; however, I am no longer experiencing the sun as readily even though the rays of the sun still reach me and at the end of the day, my skin will demonstrate that the sun was still shinning upon me. One writer states that God is actually more present to us when God feels most absent, and all who write about this dark night experience declare that this is a time of deep and profound growth into Christ-likeness when God is mightily at work molding, stripping and shaping our heart.

This lived reality of dark nights is something that can be quite disconcerting. During a dark night one can feel, and even come to believe, that God has deserted, forsaken and abandoned them - this is untrue, just like on a cloudy or foggy day the sun still shines bright, although it is not immediately experienced. In addition to the temptation to believe God is not there, another false belief can arise during a dark night that is much more troubling. This is the belief that this dark night is a result of one's own sin, which is every bit as ludicrous as believing that the cold and grey conditions at the beach are a result of one’s own actions. In fact, one of the purposes of a dark night is to wean us from the belief that our actions (bible reading, prayer, worship, service…) are what cause blessings and consolations to come our way. In a dark night, God works to dismantle the belief in a causal spirituality that turns God into a cosmic vending machine and helps one to begin to realize that all is gift – a result of God’s gracious action. Furthermore, the dark night surfaces a question within us - the question being, “Is God enough?” In other words, do you follow God, read the word, attend Church, serve...because of the goodies that come your way (spiritual warm fuzzies, material blessings, praise of others...) or is knowing God and being in relationship with God, apart from these other things, enough for you?

As Donna and I have journeyed up and down the coast we have come to appreciate and enter into the sunny days and the cloudy days equally, realizing that each type of day has its own gifts, opportunities and challenges. As you walk with God, there will be sunny days and ‘dark nights.’ The invitation is to fully enter into the gifts, opportunities and challenges of each, while keeping in mind that it is not your ‘good behavior’ that causes the sunny day, nor is it your sin that causes the ‘dark night’ but each is God's doing - a gracious gift from God. Each is a gift that will lead you to a place of greater freedom to be loved, to love and to be who God has created you to be. Remember the son still shines and that God still loves you with a one-of-a-kind-unconditional-love that nothing (cloud, fog, damp days or ‘dark nights’) can separate you from. So bundle up and embrace the gift of the ‘dark night’ when one comes your way; and jump, sing and dance when the son shines brightly, for both are a gift from God and invitations from God to be transformed.

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