Written by Steph Van Rossen
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
I am sure you are at least a little familiar with the verse above. But did you read it? Really read it? Have you experienced the rest God offers and promises in these verses? Is there a place you are able to return to where you can “get away” and respond to God’s call of “come to me” and find rest in Him?
Journey with us a little further and hear how the ocean might be that place for you…
A short while ago, the Intern Year cohort and I journeyed to Glenelg. We watched the waves frolic and splash, recede and roll while reflecting on the call of the ocean. As I stood in the quiet many things came to mind. Moana¹ might not seem like the most obvious first thought, but if you also have a four year old daughter who is obsessed with Disney Princesses, perhaps you can relate. I do love Moana. It is a story filled with motif, metaphor and meaning and it’s also about the call of the ocean. Moana is stirred by the ocean as it calls her and she returns time and time again, no matter how hard she fights it. More so, it is a story about identity, purpose and being true to ourselves. Although it is greatly loved by our preschoolers, these are themes youth and young adults are also trying to grapple with. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my purpose? For Moana these questions aren’t answered by staying on the shore, but by responding to the call and stepping out despite fear and opposition. That sounds like a metaphor and a lesson – for another time perhaps.
Secondly, I’m reminded of a very well-known poetic prayer that may, regrettably, be received as a cliche or with I’m-too-cool-for-that eye-rolls, entitled Footprints in the Sand.² I know, I know, you’ve heard it. But please, I urge you to forget you know it and read it afresh. Be encouraged by it and reminded that we have a good, good God.
Finally, the words, metaphors and stories I’ve just heard are very much at the fore. The Intern cohort of 2020 and I had the great pleasure of hearing other voices share their stories of the ocean with us. Two young, vibrant, energetic and faithful women shared with us the role and symbol of the ocean in their faith journey and how it helped them find a connection with God. There was power in the vulnerability they offered. They both shared a journey of needing to find rest, to create space to spend time with God and hear His voice amongst the noise, heartache and anxiety they were experiencing.
One of these women shared that her “last couple of years have been one of those seasons, with a few significant waves, where you feel like you’ve just caught your breath and out of nowhere another wave comes and dunks you again and you’re gasping for air…” She was searching for reprieve, for rest, for God. Through a friend’s encouragement, she found such a place near the ocean which gave her “instant peace.”
By intentionally carving out time and seeking God, they found rest and quiet.
There were common threads in their reflections –
And then –
Through walking alongside the water, in sand on the beach or across the jetty on freezing winter mornings, they found a space where they could quiet the world. A space where they could connect with God, to hear His voice, to be restored, to have rest; not necessarily physically, but in their spirit.
The ocean was somewhere “I could come as I was, no invitation needed, I could experience silence, peace and rest. Which is just what God promises us when we enter into relationship with Him. Come as you are, no prerequisites, everyone is invited, and you’ll experience His perfect peace and rest.”
This is not merely a linear journey, but a cyclical one. Where new occurring trials and hurts reminded them this place exists for them to find rest and reconnection. Like Moana, it calls them to return to the ocean once more.
I wonder what of these reflections resonates with you.
Do you also have a place that calls to you? A place where you can quiet the noise of the world and seek God?
A place where when the waves of the world are crashing down on you, you are able to be restored by the promises of God and find peace?
I hope you do.
But, if you don’t, I pray you will seek such a place. Like the verses below, a place where you can intentionally seek God, being still and quieting the noise, where the vastness of His love would be known to you.
“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
“And I pray that you…may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:17-18 (NIV)
May you too be filled and restored by God’s peace in times of suffering or uncertainty. Knowing that we learn and grow from each encounter and we can return to be filled again. Just as Moana reflects at the end of her journey;
“I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide, always falling and rising”³
Maybe next time we’ll find each other quietly watching the waves on the shore and our footprints on the sand – lost in the wonder of a God who loves us deeply and walks alongside us in all seasons.
Till then, go well,
¹ Moana (2016) Walt Disney Pictures
² There are three registered versions of this poem, I am referencing Footprints in the Sand (1936) written by Mary Stevenson.
³ I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors) (2016) by Opetaia Tavita Foa I / Mark Mancina / Lin Manuel Miranda