I love the beach. I have been going to St. George Island, Florida, with my parents every summer for 25 years. While those years are full of wonderful memories, it is more than memories that keep me coming back each year. There is something about the beach that reminds me of who I am and who God is; the reminder helps keep me focused on the God who empowers me to minister to others.
The beach reminds me of my smallness.
We usually don’t think that feeling small is a good thing, but I have found it to be quite liberating. When I walk to the edge of the water at the beach, I can look to the horizon and see nothing but water. I can look to my left and my right and view beaches that extend as far as the eye can see. The vastness of the ocean reminds me of the problems I cannot solve—the woman dying of cancer, the man struggling with the advance of Parkinson’s, the children in my community who live each day in broken homes. I pray for them, I weep with them, and yet I am powerless to bring an end to any of their struggles. I feel as helpless before their troubles as I feel small before the expanse of the ocean.
When addressing another man who felt helpless in the face of suffering, his own suffering even, God spoke to the smallness and powerlessness of humanity. When God answered Job out of the whirlwind, part of his reply invoked the image of the sea and its vastness.
Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed”? (Job 38:8-11 ESV)
I think God’s point was not simply to make Job feel small, but was to remind him that there is one who is larger than any of our problems. While we feel small and helpless when faced with the tremendous size of the ocean, we can look beyond the sea to the one who was powerful enough to create such a tremendous body of water. President John F. Kennedy favored a Breton fisherman’s prayer, “O Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” The ocean might remind me of my smallness, but it also reminds me of the power of God. So long as there is a Lord who commands the waves, then the waves do not define my life.
The beach reminds me of my significance.
When evening falls at the beach, the miles of ocean give way to the lightyears of the heavens. Stars, more numerous due to the far-away horizon and darkness of the beach night, shine from distances too great for the mind to fathom. Interestingly, despite the fact that the night sky is infinitely more vast than the seemingly infinite sea, the twinkling stars remind me of my significance rather than my smallness. David had a similar thought as he penned a psalm reflecting on the immensity of nature, juxtaposed with God’s care for relatively small humanity.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5 ESV)
Despite my smallness, God is mindful of me. He has made me a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned me with glory and honor. God loves and cares for us disproportionally, not based on the small space we occupy. We don’t have to look to the waves of the ocean or the stars of the night sky to know he’s there. We know he is there, because he was here. Despite our smallness, God became one of us, and in being obedient to the point of death on a cross, he showed us the significance we have in the eyes of God.
So every year when I come to the beach, I am reminded of two important things. First, that I am incredibly small when I stand to face my problems, the problems of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the problems of the world. Second, and more importantly, that there is a liberation to be found in my smallness. A liberation in being reminded that the answer to all of our problems is not dependent on me. The solutions to our problems are not to be found in our own ability, intelligence, or strength. If it were only ourselves standing before a vast ocean of trouble, we would be in trouble. However, we are not alone. Like the disciples caught on the raging sea, we discover that there is someone of infinite might in our small boat. Like the disciples we ask with wonder and great fear, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV)