Have you ever spent any time in the ocean?
My in-laws have a house in southern Orange County. Whenever we visit, we go down to the same beach near their home. So we stake out a place on the beach and then we go out into the surf to swim and splash around.
I enjoy bobbing in the surf. I love the feeling when a wave comes along and lifts me up like I don’t weigh a thing. Then I’ll look over and see everyone else it lifts up and I’ll get a sense of the ocean’s size and power. Then a wave will flip me over and rub me into the sand and gravel just as easily, and that part isn’t so much fun. But it’s not so bad either, so I stay out there until the next wave comes along and keep doing it two, three, four, five times.
Somewhere along the way, I’ll happen to look up at the beach, and when I do, I’ll be disoriented, because I’m still the same distance from the beach, but my beach chair and towel and the little green bucket with the shovel aren’t where I left them: they’ve traveled 30 or 40 yards off to the right.
After a moment’s puzzlement, my brain will figure it out. I’ll realize that, no, I’m the one who’s traveled. Now I’m way over to the left, and I need to go in closer to shore so I can walk back to where I started.
It’s not that I’m in danger — or, at least, not a lot. Oh, if I kept on drifting toward the surf zone, I might eventually be clobbered by someone’s surfboard. But it’s more likely that the lifeguard would spot me and get on the radio to summon the yellow boat to rescue me, so everyone could see what a fool I’d been.
Our lives can be a lot like time in the ocean. There are moments of exhilarating delight that lift us up, and moments of grinding misfortune that flip us over and shove us into the sand. And between these is a lot of time spent waiting for whatever the next wave brings. That’s what we notice. But we can also be moved sideways along the shoreline without noticing, until we look back at the beach and realize we aren’t where we thought we were.
In John 15, Jesus teaches that as we live in him, we will bear much fruit. In Galatians 5, Paul talks about some of the fruit we produce by the power of the indwelling Spirit. If we look for it, there should be some evidence of that fruit in our lives. When we don’t see any, or less than we used to, we’re not where we thought we were. We’ll have to make an effort to move back. We can hardly assume those same waves will reverse and send us back along the shore to where we want to be.
So, where have we drifted? How far are we from where we want to be? What “surfboards” are we getting close to? What can we do to move back to where we need to be? Give some thought to how these questions apply to you, individually-and all of us together as a community of faith. I’d love to hear what you think.