“I have a sickness only the ocean can cure,” I lamented to my husband.
It emerges unexpectedly, this sudden restlessness that makes me want to run to the coast, to stand before that vast expanse of water–to taste the salt and feel the cold water spray my face and remember that the world is so much bigger than just me.
I want to be reminded of how small I am. To remember that the God-man who slept while the waves tossed the boat is also the One who is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
The ocean isn’t the only cure, of course. I can look out at the endless prairie or the unobstructed view of the stars and marvel at the God who simply spoke these things into being. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies above proclaim His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). But am I ever paying attention? In the hustle of daily life, the details of three small children, the demands from every direction, is there really time to stop and smell the proverbial roses?
We’re in the mountains for a week. This sweet space of time where we can step out of real life and look up to the peaks reaching into the clouds and remember that we are but dust. Who are we that God gives thought to us? It’s a peaceful reflection I have anticipated for the weeks leading up to this trip. I planned to take it all in, to drink deeply of the beauty, to worship in the shadow of the mountain.
So I went on a hike with three small children.
I’m looking up at the skies, the way it outlines the mountaintops, the way the trees beautifully contrast against its blue…
He’s holding a dandelion.
“Let’s blow it.”
We blow the dandelion seeds into the wind. I toss the stem to the ground and march on, trying to usher my two-year-old down the path. He stops to pick up the branch of a pine tree.
“Uh huh,” I respond, leading the way forward.
We arrive at the destination, a breathtaking view of a lake surrounded by snow-covered mountains. After a few minutes, we’re the only ones there and the silence is mesmerizing.
“Can I put my feet in the water?”
We stumble down the rocky beach to get to the lake. I can already hear the whining of wet feet and pants on the hike back. I see visions of my children falling in the water, sliding down the rocks, soaking wet with skinned knees.
I’m irritated. I just want to stand and breathe in the silence. I start to pray. I want to believe that I didn’t actually pray that God would shut my children up so I could appreciate His creation, but at the moment, it’s all I can remember. Perhaps it really was my plea. I didn’t say it was pretty.
I thought of a section in N.D. Wilson’s book, Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl. He describes the person praying, “God, what is your will for my life?” And God responds, “Do you see this squirrel?” The person continues to pray, “But really, God, what am I supposed to do with my life?” And God responds again, “Do you see this squirrel?”
There’s more to it than what I’m remembering, I’m sure, but ultimately it’s this picture of how we think we’re so important; how we are so consumed with our needs, our plans, our lives, that we forget to stop and breathe it all in. We forget to remember how small we are, to remember the God who cares even about the birds, who keeps the world spinning with just a word, who holds it all in the palms of His hands.
So I’m praying, “God, would you remind me how small I am?” And it’s like He’s beckoning me to lean in: “Do you see these kids?” I’m annoyed. “Can you just get them to be quiet? To be still? To stop distracting me?” But instead He draws my attention to their delight. To the way they laugh at the cool water between their toes, the way the dandelion seeds floating in the wind bring them joy, the way they don’t need the mountains because a brilliantly colored pebble is enough for them to celebrate.
I’m searching for peace around me, all the while it is offered from within. This peace of God which surpasses all understanding; this God of peace who has promised to be with me.
I’ll admit I missed it then. I saw this dialogue play out and still stood there frustrated. Here was something I loved but could not enjoy. I grew resentful as I thought of the many things I tried to share with my children only for them to turn what I considered refreshing and restful into something exhausting and painful. I’ll admit that, even now as I reflect on this, I am having a hard time wanting to engage with the fussing outside my door. I want to stay in bed with my coffee and computer, writing about what God is teaching me instead of actually having to live it.
I’ve been in Philippians 2 this week, this ode to the humble, sacrificial submission displayed first in Christ, exemplified in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, and set out before me as the path to life. I pondered that selfless life before our hike. Sat and reflected on what it means to seek the interests of my family before my own, to forsake what I think I deserve and embrace the way of the cross, to do all things without grumbling, to hold fast to the word of life. All of this is set before me as the example Christ gave, his footsteps to set the course for mine. But His life is more than that; His attitude of submission is mine as I’m united to Him. His life is both my example and my source; His calling is before me to work out, all the while knowing that it is God who is at work in me, enabling me to desire and to live out His good purpose.
Then I closed my Bible, piled into the car with my family and headed to the mountains, into a day filled with reminders of how my selfishness abounds, of how much I have left to learn.
I guess that’s it. There is no pretty conclusion to this story. Only the stark contrast between my sinfulness and God’s holiness. Only the hope that God-made-flesh sympathizes with my every weakness and promises mercies that are new every morning.
Here’s to another day in the mountains. With three small children.