This year my goal is to have no goals. I’m trying to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace, to walk with Him and work with Him—watch how He does it.” (Matthew 11:28-30 – The Message). Even though I’m trying hard I’m more aware than ever how I seek to gain control. I noticed this first early in summer. I took an ocean swimming lesson at Shelly Beach as a step to overcoming my fear of the ocean. Some fears you don’t find on the page, you find them when you’re way out of your depth.
Sarah, our teacher told us we had to learn ‘to become one with the ocean; like dolphins, like fish. Learn to be effortless,’ she said. I was hopeless at this. I wanted to pull my way through the water but every time it was my turn to demonstrate what I was learning, she came and held my outreached hand and held it in place.
“Patient front hand,” she said. “You bring it through too fast, leave it in front, feel the glide.”
If I leave it out front to feel the glide I won’t go anywhere I thought. I was confused. Then she showed us how to swivel our hips, how to have “dry shoulder, dry hip,” then slowly, with practise, this began to make sense. Then my neck injury flared and instead of driving to Manly to swim in the ocean as I had planned to do at least three mornings a week over January, I found myself driving to Manly to see the physiotherapist.
As part of my treatment there are exercises. “Oh good, I need to exercise,” but it wasn’t what I thought. “You need to relax,” the physio said in her South African accent. “The movement is gentle, minute, not one you control.”
I pay attention to her words. It’s good to hear them in an audible voice instead of that whisper I hear in my head. I’m always wondering if it is God’s voice leading me or my obsession with children’s books giving me pictures of fireflies. I practise these pathetic little exercises convinced I’m wrong and check again the illustration she’s drawn for me. I check that my neck ‘strings’ ( as she refers to them) are soft and that my nose can draw a circle on the imaginary piece of paper above me, then I do 10 lots of 10 seconds and relax. It’s not strenuous but it’s boring and pathetic and I feel old before my time. These exercises mock me but I make myself do them knowing that obedience and paying attention makes God happy.
I do want to make God happy. I want to relinquish my control and live for Him but I tell Him in my morning journal that it does seem a little unfair. I whinge about my inability to swim, especially on the day that my friend phones to tell me there were dolphins! I tell her that I am happy for her and I genuinely am. I think to myself that even if I were there in the ocean I might not get to see them, I would be too anxious to get my feet firmly back on the sand. Besides, my friend is a dog magnet and sensing her love of animals it seems only natural that the dolphin would swim with her.
Instead of swimming I decide to get up early to walk and photograph the morning sun reflected on the water. I realise that this is exactly what I am meant to be doing after all. As the dark of night passes there is remarkable stillness over the world. I talk about this with another friend one morning at Bondi Beach. I’ve convinced her to get up early with me to dip our feet in the pool at Icebergs. It’s an adventure and as we look out over the expanse of sea we marvel at why we would ever choose to stay in bed.
Oswald Chambers writes, “there is a darkness that comes from too much light – that is the time to listen. When God gives you a vision and darkness follows, wait.” So I learn to wait, to surrender control and to trust. Through the lens of my camera I discover things you can’t see with your natural eyes. The focus is changed and there are a thousand little details you don’t notice when your looking at the big picture.
I see the birds on the wire, the reflection of an egret in the still lake, the many shades and hues of the sea. I see children with their nets in the shallows and fisherman knee deep with their lines. God has my full attention. I am learning to be still. Then it’s as if I’ve been set up on the morning my devotional quotes Matthew 6:28 “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they do not toil or spin.”
I’m slightly offended by this. “I’m listening,” I tell Him, “I get it.”
But He shows me all the ways I’ve missed the point. The ways I continue to strive, even to be still. Slowly I see that it’s not so much about sacrifice, or letting go but it’s about looking with new eyes. He wants me to be silent, to make time to just be. When I look long enough I realise that he is working on my behalf to make great things happen.
“Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all.” (Mary Daly)
So I wait and I watch. I stand on the bridge between ocean and the lake to take it all in. It’s the splendour of adornment He wants to show me. The way he clothes the grass of the field, the way he feeds the birds of the air – the abundance that comes with surrender. The shift from me to Him. Not because he wants to control or limit me. Rather He wants me to see the limitless possibilities that extend from walking with Him who is the God of more than enough.
There is nothing essentially wrong with any of my plans, it’s just that they are too small. He isn’t saying that the lilies have enough, that the birds have enough…He has never been the God of enough. He doesn’t tell me to delight in the sacrifice or the suffering but rather to awaken to the realm where He is. His ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. He is teaching me to live in the unforced rhythms of his grace. His grace is Sufficient for me, it fills my cup, it runner over..and one day soon I will swim again – patient front hand – I will glide – I will be one with the water.