Lessons from the Sea

You can’t stop the waves of life, but you can learn to trust God through them. by Tammy Darling

“I may leave the sea, but the sea never leaves me.”

This saying accompanies a photo of the ocean I took a few years ago and is on a desktop plaque I had made after one of many trips to the ocean. Each year our family takes an early fall excursion to the ocean, somewhere along the east coast. Some years I’ve been blessed with an additional spring beach trip with my husband for our anniversary celebration.

It is sitting alongside the seashore, basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun, that I feel most “at home.” This is the place I feel closest to God. For some, it’s the mountains; for me, it’s always been the ocean.

The sea has taught me much over the years, lessons I couldn’t have learned any other place. The following are just nine of the lessons the sea has taught me:

Keep calm and don’t panic

It seems like every year shortly before our vacation time there’s a new report of an ocean drowning. Often these drownings are the result of rip tides. So, every year I remind my children of the dangers of the ocean, how to identify rip tides and what to do if they are ever caught up in one. Whether a rip tide, shark or other potential danger, the most important thing is to keep calm and don’t panic.

That’s great advice for us all, whether we’re at the ocean or not. Life happens—car accidents, lost jobs, betrayal, sickness. But no matter what comes against us, it’s important that we keep calm and don’t panic. It’s much easier to hear the wisdom and guidance of God when we’re not freaking out over our circumstances.

Go with the flow

Sea turtles are among my favorite sea creatures. I especially love the animated sea turtles in the movie “Finding Nemo.” When they’re cruising along on the East Australia Current, they’re so happy and content to just go with the flow. Turns out, this depiction isn’t too far from the truth as sea turtles do ride ocean currents.

It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn to go with the flow when life tries to throw me off course. I tend to fight circumstances —and sometimes God—when I don’t like the circumstances that I find myself in. But please understand, this is not to say that we are to go with the flow and join the ways of the world. Not at all. This is about those everyday moments, the interruptions, the change of plans, the things we allow to stress us out and distract us when we could easily adapt and … go with the flow.

God always provides

It’s not always pleasant to come across a half-eaten fish or sea star on the beach, but it is a reminder that God always provides. I mean, those seagulls and pelicans need to eat too! My husband once held up a french fry and within a matter of seconds we were surrounded by dozens of seagulls. While I asked him to never do that again, I did buy a humorous plaque for my ocean-themed washroom that reads, “Today I will be happier than a seagull with a french fry.”

God’s provision may not always look like we think it should, but He does always faithfully provide. His way. His timing. That seagull may have wanted a fish, but it got a french fry; it got what it needed, not necessarily what it wanted. I’m sure the fish came at another time, but for that moment God provided something else. Are we willing to be thankful for what and how God provides, even if it’s not what we think we want or need?

Come out of your shell

Hermit crabs are such fascinating creatures. I love the fact that as they continue to grow, they abandon their ill-fitting shell for a larger, more fitting shell. It’s so amazing to watch a hermit crab come out of its shell and go into a new one.

Perhaps the reason that hermit crabs are so endearing to me is because I’ve spent a lifetime in my own sort of shell, hiding from the world, from new experiences and even from myself. But the more I grow in Christ, the more uncomfortable that shell becomes. I’m outgrowing it. I know I need to shed the shell and become who I was always meant to be.

Beware of shifting sand

Even though sand is relatively soft, it can also be hazardous. On our last family vacation, my mother-in-law fell when she lost her balance on the shifting sand beneath her feet. This was also the same vacation when we rented a beach house that was located three miles down on a four-by-four beach. Yikes! Driving on the sand adds a whole new dynamic to the shifting sand. We had to be extremely careful on a whole new level.

Sometimes the “shifting sands” of our lives can cause problems if we’re not especially careful and alert. The enemy loves to throw us off balance and get us off course. He laughs when we fall due to the shifting. The more diligent we are in our walk with the Lord, the less likely any shifting we encounter will become a real problem.

Age gracefully

Aging gracefully is another lesson I’m (still) learning from sea turtles. These amazing creatures continue to grow very slowly throughout their lives, preventing them from aging in the same way that birds and mammals do. And I like to think that their ability to go with the flow contributes to their longevity—at least I know it would add to ours!

We may not continue to grow physically throughout our entire lives, but we should certainly always be growing spiritually, intellectually and even emotionally. I’m a firm believer in daily growth. I love learning something new every day, responding better than I did the day before to life’s hiccups (or even throw ups), and becoming closer and closer to the heart of God. I can honestly say I look and feel younger than I did 10 years ago. That’s aging gracefully.

Use caution when walking

Walking on the beach, feeling the sand between your toes, feels great. It feels great until you step on something like a broken seashell because you weren’t paying attention to your surroundings. Or it feels great until you step on something not visible, hidden just beneath the sand. I’ve learned to wear beach shoes and to be more cautious when I’m walking on the beach.

Because the enemy’s primary purpose is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), we need to be especially careful in our daily walk—not just where we go and who we spend our time with, although that’s important too. But we must also be careful with our attitudes, motives, words and thoughts. Paying close attention to these things will keep us from tripping or falling.

Ride the waves

While I love being at the ocean and watching the waves, I don’t actually get in the ocean and experience the waves first-hand. I’m quite content to sit in the sand and photograph the waves. Since we go to the ocean off-season, the beach isn’t very crowded, but I do witness an occasional surfer catching some good waves. Two of our daughters recently started using body boards, cautiously staying close to the shore. It’s so fun to watch them ride these mini waves.

Life is full of adventure and risks. We never know what tomorrow will bring. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good. We can’t stop the waves, but we can learn to surf. I may or may not ever catch an actual ocean wave, but I can catch the waves of life and ride them “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV).

The sun (Son) is faithful

I know some people that go to the ocean and never once get up early to see an ocean sunrise. Crazy, I know. No matter how tired I am, an ocean sunrise is something I don’t want to miss. The sun faithfully rises, appearing to rise out of the water. And even if it’s a cloudy morning, there’s still evidence of the sun’s rising. It’s not always clear, but it is always there. And it’s always a beauty to behold.

The Son, too, is faithful. Even if we don’t clearly see Jesus working, He is. He’s moving. He’s changing the atmosphere. He’s there. Just as we can trust that the sun will rise, we can trust that Jesus is rising—and has indeed risen—on our behalf. The sun, the Son—is always there, always faithful.  

Watercolor sea creatures by Ashley Schena. Other elements via Getty Images.