I wonder why I can’t sleep. Why this time of isolation seems to come so often. I wonder if God has His hand in it.
So, I lay there and listen. I listen for God’s voice. I ask Him what it is about this time of night that He finds sacred. What is it? Why now?
I listen. But, I hear no response. Silence is all I hear. And then, I hear the wind. The rain. Traffic in the distance. My husband’s slow rhythmic breathing.
Then I hear it. “Just be still.”
So, I lay there and just breathe in the silence. I inhale. “Abba.” I exhale. “Father.” “Abba. Father.”
I find peace in the dark, empty, night. I find God present. And, I find comfort in being still, because God assures me that He is with me.
Be still. And know that I am God.
I need this reassurance. This time. I haven’t felt God’s presence in my daily life in recent weeks. I felt, instead, as though I were walking in the desert. Thirsty and tired. Distracted by the noise of my daily life even when I set aside time with God.
And so, I no longer dread the 3:00 am wake up call from God. I know, instead, that it is His answer to my prayers. His response to my longing to escape the desert and to find His thirst-quenching peace.
I breathe in, “Abba. Father.”
He responds, “Be still and know that I am God.”
One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
When I was young, we spent summers at the Oregon coast. We had a small house–an “A” frame–three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. We lived on Third Street in a town so small that we walked or rode bikes everywhere. And, there was no mail service. We simply walked to the post office and asked if any mail had arrived for our family.
I walked on the beach every day, usually by myself. My Keds tennis shoes and my white windbreaker when it was cool or especially windy. Hands in my pockets, I walked. For hours. The ocean drowned out the distraction of the world. Seagulls floated. Sand pipers scurried away from the waves.
I breathed in the beauty and solitude. This is where I knew–and still know–God exists. This is the place I return when I need to remember.
My walk is like walking a labyrinth of sorts. I head into the wind at a place in the wet sand that I call the “shell line.” Here, if you look down the beach, you see a narrow, white-speckled path along the sand–as far as the eye can see. It weaves its way along beyond the mist.
But here, I see things others don’t. I search for God’s beauty and find it. Eyes cast down, I slowly and deliberately step. My eyes scan the shell line for small, perfect circles. Baby, snow-white sand dollars, some no more than a quarter inch across. Others larger.
The world falls away.
A sort of reverence envelops me. Reverence for God’s creation. Prayerful meditation with each step. Aware of everything, yet aware of nothing.
Before me, a small white circle appears in the sand, distinct among the other angular pieces of broken shell that surround it. I kneel and pick it up with my left hand. Perfect. Beautiful. I brush off the wet sand, blow on it, and gently place it in the palm of my right hand.
I look out on the ocean for a moment, brush my hair from my face and begin again. While I no longer spend my summers at the beach, I return to this place several times a year. I walk on the beach and the waves beckon me to the shell line. My labyrinth. A place where I journey toward God.
A sacred place in God’s creation. A sacred journey each time I come. Each visit brings healing, understanding, renewal.
A sanctuary. The Lord’s temple. I “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” here. I seek Him and I find Him.
This is where I know.
Where will you find a sacred space today? Where do you gaze upon God’s beauty and know that He is God?
Several years ago when my son went to summer camp, I remember thinking that when he came back he had changed. Really changed. I don’t mean he was so filthy that I didn’t recognize him or that he simply needed a bath to soak off the layers of wilderness that encased his sun-tanned body. It was as if the wilderness had changed him from the inside out. The impression sticks with me even today. I remember watching him and thinking that he had been transformed. He left as a boy who had grown up being taught about Christ’s love and returned as a young man who now knew God–who understood what it meant to seek God’s face. There was a peace about him and an exuberance. I can’t describe it, really. It just was.
This wasn’t an ordinary summer camp adventure. The program, sponsored by a camp where my son had spent many summer weeks, had every possible draw for boys–a skate park, motor bikes, paint ball, a lake with a huge slide. But this year, this program was new and it was exclusive: 8th grade boys only. And, the camp limited the program to a handful of them. The plan? A group of young men would take a group of younger soon-to-be men out on a 3 week wilderness trip. White water rafting, camping, rock climbing, mountain climbing. But the trip was more. I don’t know the specifics of the daily activities–eighth grade boys just don’t tell their moms that much–but at the age of 20 my son finally shared with me that it was the first time that he stood on the top of a mountain and wept at the beauty of creation. Until that moment, I didn’t understand that eighth grade boys had that capacity.
These young men who lead the trip understood. As we dropped our son off at camp that first evening, all I could think about was that these were middle school boys who laughed most vigorously when one of their bodies expelled a loud noise or a plug-your-nose kind of odor and they were proud of it. They were silly and loud and completely oblivious to the fact that their moms were holding back tears because their boys would be out of communication with them for longer–much longer–than they ever had been. But, the young men who took these soon-to-be-men to the wilderness of western Washington knew what made these middle school boys tick.
While I don’t know the specifics of the trip, except the names of the places they traveled and some of the young men and boys who traveled with my son, I do imagine what it was like. Lots of vigorous exercise and learning new skills that required the boys to overcome their deepest fears–water, heights, repelling. Shear exhaustion. Lots of laughter. And evenings around a campfire in reflection about the day and God’s plan. I imagine that is what the trip was like because those are the ingredients that seem to help us, as spiritual beings, to draw closer to God so that He might reveal himself. And, those are the moments when we feel free to speak and think because we develop a trust with those we are with. We can let our guard down–we don’t need the mask that we put on for the rest of the world. These are the moments that we need–whether we are middle school boys or middle-aged women. These are the moments and relationships that, if we look, allow us to see the heart of God. We need the wilderness moments.
I do find those quiet wilderness moments alone, in the early morning hours with my cup of coffee. I find those quiet wilderness moments alone when we go to the beach and I walk in God’s creation, alone with the wind in my face, and the waves deafening the world around me. It’s just me and God and his creation. It is then that I seek and can find God’s face. These are my wilderness moments, but they are wilderness moments of solitude with God. The relationships that would help nurture me and sustain me — the fellowship with others that Christ wants for me–are few. I am too often in the wilderness alone. God reveals himself when I am alone. But, in wilderness moments with others, I have seen how God reveals himself differently. I have seen Him reflected in the lives and hearts of others. I need that. I need to know that God shows up and lives in the hearts of others around me. I am keenly aware that I need that and I long for those times.
But, that longing has been overshadowed by my fears. I blame myself mostly for being in the wilderness alone rather than with others. I have not been intentional enough about seeking out moments and relationships with others who are on this journey of life. It’s been about time, but it has mostly been about fear. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of being rejected. Fear of being judged by Christian women because sometimes I doubt and question my faith. Fear of being judged by Christians because I am married to a man who is not a believer.
With God alone, I know I can doubt and know he loves me anyway. With God alone, I find comfort and assurance that I am married to the man God intend me to spend my life with and love deeply despite our spiritual divide. With others, particularly Christians, I don’t know that they will love me anyway. With Christians I don’t know that they will understand my marriage. The wilderness feels safer alone. My fears have been stronger than my longings.
My fear flows from experience. In my own brokenness, I have failed to love fully and accept others fully and they me. Those nails of rejection and judgment have left deep and permanent scars that only God’s love and grace and mercy can wash away. I have been hurt and hurt others. And so, I have built up a wall, one brick at a time. Slowly at first. But it became easier. Easier than risking letting others know who I was and easier than risking letting God reflect himself in all my vulnerability. Easier than trying to seek God’s heart in others.
But now, I am weary. Weary of carrying the cross of fear on my back. Weary of not fully knowing God. The longing now overshadows my fears. And so, I venture out into the wilderness with others and I seek God’s face one moment at a time. Removing one brick at a time. But it is hard. For I am not the only one who has chosen fear over longing. I stand in the pews or attend church gatherings. I see masks and walls and barriers of various shapes and colors and sizes.
Those young men who took those loud middle school boys into the wilderness were wise. They were intentional in developing their relationships with these boys and God showed up and revealed himself. They knew the importance of seeking wilderness moments and experiencing wilderness moments with others. I may not get a 3 week outdoor adventure in the wilds of western Washington’s rain forests, but I need to intentionally seek God’s heart in others. And so, into the wilderness I go seeking God’s strength so that I may have the capacity to risk what I have feared. So that I may love others and know God in ways that I have longed to know him all these years.