There are few things in life that are more delightful than watching my own kids experience that same anticipation. Last week we spent our spring break at the beach in Port Aransas, Texas, with some good friends. Of the five kids we brought along, only our two had ever seen the ocean. But, because Caroline and Mary Claire were just babies on their first trip, this might as well have been their first time. We drove down to the coast on Friday night, and everyone in our van stayed awake well past bedtime and well after dark just hoping to catch a glimpse of the water. When we arrived, our gaggle of sleepy children gleefully helped unload the cars and set up our fabulous beach house for the week. I have never seen such willingness to work hard! At midnight, once the children were finally tucked into their little beds all in a row, Mary Claire remained awake. When I inquired as to why she wasn’t sleeping yet, she replied, “Mommy, can I go see the ocean tonight? Please??” It was so hard to wait!
You could not have wiped the grin off of their sweet faces the next morning as we prepared to go to the beach. All five children bounced around as we donned swimsuits and hats, pasted bodies with sunscreen, and gathered towels, buckets, and shovels. But, it was their all-out sprint on the boardwalk that got me thinking.
I stood back, watching the children barreling across that boardwalk, and I wondered: When was the last time I was so excited about something that I literally ran toward it with a big fat smile on my face? This particular boardwalk was a long one with sets of stairs at several places along the way. You could not see the ocean from the starting point. But, that did not stop the children from making a break for it the second their little flip-flops hit the wooden bridge. They knew that the boardwalk meant they were closer than ever to the object of their desire: the smooth sand and the cool water. Even though they had never seen it, they wanted to go. They could hear the waves crashing on the shore, and they knew they were close enough to run.
In the wake of a season of intense grief in my own life, some days I am not sure that there is anything left for me to run toward. Sometimes I think I am done here with that kind of joy…that there is nothing on earth that could be exciting enough to anticipate with wonder, stay awake dreaming about, and eagerly pursue. I don’t think I am alone. The older we get, it seems that the things we dreamed about may have come and gone. And, some of those dreams didn’t really pay up, if you know what I mean. Maybe we couldn’t sleep on the night before our weddings because we were dreaming of meeting our handsome prince at the end of the aisle and being whisked away to a life of bliss. Now, I’m not picking on marriage. I would choose my husband again and again. But, we all know that’s not what it is really like now, don’t we? It’s deeper and better than that…if you’re willing to work for it. But, it is harder than that, too. So, the school of life teaches us, over time, not to get our hopes up…not to anticipate anything too highly. If we do, we may be disappointed.
But, something about that mindset just doesn’t jive with my soul! I can’t get my mind off of my children running toward the ocean. Must we give that up? Does growth and maturity really equate with self-protection? My nine-year-old Caroline got stung by a jellyfish while jumping the waves. Up until that painful experience, she probably didn’t even know what a jellyfish was…maybe except for seeing them on SpongeBob cartoons! But, she got up close and personal with one. Ouch! And, I have to tell you, it was a tender job coaxing her back into the water the next day. Who wants to get stung twice? Wisdom says stay out of the ocean, right?
I don’t think so. Real growth, real maturity teaches us that, yeah, there are jellyfish out there, but if you focus on them, you’ll miss the beauty of the waves, the cool sand on your feet, the castles you can create, and the amazing formations the birds make as they glide over the water. As adults, we justify missing these kinds of things every day because of fear. Stop for a second and ponder it. Getting burned once (or twice) has kept us from going places and trying things that might hold joy, and more importantly for us Christ-followers, kingdom purpose. Even if we don’t avoid something altogether, we protect ourselves by keeping our expectations low so that we won’t be disappointed. We pass our fear and cynicism off as “maturity”! How ridiculous! What a loss!
I do think there is middle ground between a childlike perspective and a jaded adult world view. We know about jellyfish now. Sand is sticky and gets in your eyes. Life is full of imperfections. There’s no going back. But, we can have a grounded, mature, Biblical world view. And, there is nothing jaded or cynical about it! This perspective says, “Yep. There are jellyfish. But, God is in that ocean! I want to meet Him there! I want to see Him in it! I want to join Him in what He is doing there!” If I saw my world through those kind of eyes, could I begin to anticipate things with joy once again? Could you?
I am challenged by my children to see the world around me with new eyes, to view the things I think I already know from the perspective of a newcomer. What if I missed something the first time? What if I do not remember it because I was a “baby” the first time I saw it? What if the growth in my heart and soul affords me the chance to perceive things differently now?
I am challenged by the Holy Spirit to see the world around me with new eyes, too. When I go to spend time with God, do I approach His throne of grace with that kind of abandon? Do I run toward Him in joyful anticipation? Do I expect great things from Him? Even when I cannot physically see the object of my desire, do I see the beginning of the boardwalk, hear the waves crashing in the distance, and, knowing it is the path that leads to joy, break out into a sprint? If not, why not?
As I close my eyes and envision myself approaching the boardwalk, a prayer is emerging from the depths of my soul: Lord, I want to see your beauty. I want to see You. I want to see You in the people and the world you created. I want to want You. I want to desire You so much that I cannot sleep. I want to desire You so much that I cannot take a leisurely stroll towards the things you have planned for me. Cause me to move toward you in an all-out sprint! Don’t allow me to fool myself into thinking self-protection is maturity. YOU are my protector! Please cleanse me from the fear and cynicism that have built up in my heart because I have been hurt. Help me to trust you more. Give me joyful purpose that is unquenchable. Give me power that moves me toward even the things I cannot see. Cause me to expect great things once again! In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8