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Beach Bum Blues


The Life Less Traveled


October 09, 2013
You'd be amazed at how many people get close to the ocean but never actually go to the beach. Three years ago, I went to a conference in Pawley's Island, S.C., with a team from my church. For the entire 10-hour drive, all I could think about was getting to the ocean. I'm from Indiana. We had a pond and a creek but not much beach-front property.  

As we approached Pawley's Island, I knew we were close. We were driving down a road called Ocean Highway for goodness' sake. You could smell the salt water in the air. According to the map, we were practically on top of it, but there was too much real estate and trees to see any water.

Then, just for a second, I caught a glimpse. Sunlight sparkling on waves. Vast. Awesome. Exquisite.

Just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone, and I was stuck inside a church for the entire next day. Don't get me wrong. The conference was amazing, but, from my vantage point, I might as well have been in Iowa. The interior of the church looked like dozens of others I'd seen before.

Yet, I knew the Atlantic Ocean was only five minutes away. Five minutes! It was excruciating knowing I was so close to the beach with no way of getting there. I wondered if I could talk everyone into a change of venue. Let's just pack up all 75 people, grab some beach towels and do this thing outside. Surely that wouldn't be too big of a deal, right?

Yes, I was there for the conference, but I was counting down the minutes until I could stick my toes in the sand. When our break finally arrived, I was ready to bolt for the shore. We had a dinner to attend that evening but still had a good couple of hours to hit the beach.

That's when one of my friends started dragging his heels.

"Maybe we should just go back and rest at the condo," he said. "The beach is a lot of work," he said. "You get sand all over everything," he said. "You have to clean up before dinner," he said. "It's kind of a pain," he said.

The rest of us looked at him like he had a Martian hand growing out of his head. We'd just driven 10 hours, and this was our one shot. What was he smoking?

Then, it hit me. He wasn't like the rest of us. He'd grown up in Florida. This guy went to beach like I went to Walmart. It was old hat. Boring. An inconvenience. It was like Peyton Manning watching a high school football game. Been there. Done that.

Did I mention I'm from Indiana? The closest thing I had to the ocean was Patoka Lake. It's great as far as lakes go, but not exactly the same experience. Fortunately, the angry mob prevailed. Minutes later I got my beach.

When I first fell in love with God, it was a kind of like I felt about the beach. I was desperate for Him. He was all I could think about. I could sense when He was near, and catching a glimpse of Him took my breath away.

I felt like the songwriter who wrote, "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psalm 42:2 NIV)

Yet, over the years, I've grown to be more like my beach-jaded friend. It's not that I love God any less, but familiarity dulls my sense of wonder and awe. I'm not any less desperate for God, but sometimes I forget my desperation. Instead of making time for God, I make excuses. And, in the end, I miss out on the great ocean of God's love and friendship.

It's a sad thing to get close to the ocean but never make it to the beach. It's absolutely tragic to have God so near but to never enjoy His presence.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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