Walking on Sand
When I traveled to Maui to teach a conference years ago, I brought my water-loving two year-old daughter with me. She’d never set foot on a beach, but had always been fascinated by the ocean.
Leading up to the trip, she talked nonstop about the ocean and floating in the huge, seemingly boundless swimming pool.
As we neared the beach, she sang songs about the ocean, falling silent only when her eyes caught a glimpse of the wild waves as they crashed on the shore.
I sat her down in the beach chair to unload our towels and she immediately jumped off the chair with both feet. She took one step, stared in horror at the sand, and did a ninja-like jump back into the beach chair.
“What is THAT?!?” she cried, pointing at the sand as if it were covered in beheaded Carebears.
“It’s just sand!” I said, suddenly defensive on behalf of nature.
“I’m not walking on that EVER again,” she said dramatically.
She sat on the chair, looked at the ocean and cried.
She’d been waiting so long to be here, in this place, by this water, and yet the unfamiliar grainy ground stopped her dead in her tracks.
“I want to go in the water, but I can’t,” she cried.
Before I entered recovery, there were countless nights I spent on the floor, spinning into darkness and shame after doing the things I swore I’d never do again. I was paralyzed by hopelessness and soul-twisting anxiety.
I finally found my way to a 12-step meeting. As I kept going back, I slowly learned about the foreign concept of recovery, which promised a life of freedom and joy and peace.
And I wanted it more than anything.
But as I began to practice honesty and openness, I noticed pockets of resistance. I didn’t like letting go. I didn’t like admitting I was powerless. I didn’t like being authentic instead of controlling what others thought of me.
I wanted freedom and health, but I didn’t want to take the steps to get there.
I loved the ocean, but I wasn’t willing to walk on the sand.
All of us have moments in recovery where moving our feet feels impossible. It takes humility to admit powerlessness. It takes courage to make amends. We all have moments where we wonder if the effort is worth it.
This resistance is not limited to our first months sober. It can crop up at any time or place along our journey. It might happen when we experience loss or rejection or frustration. It might happen when we let distractions take us away from the priority of spiritual connection. But at some point along our path, we will come upon territory we’d rather avoid. And it’s in this place we need to hold on to the broader vision.
I couldn’t blame my kid for her dread of the sand. It was completely unknown, and, it was hot. The mix of unfamiliar and uncomfortable was enough to send her flying back to the safety of the chair. But as she stared at the ocean and cried, she saw something, just off of the shore. A sea turtle was visible just below the surface, and as the waves would pass, she could see its head coming up for air. The ocean was alive, and she knew it.
Locking eyes with the water, she scooted off the chair. She took one step, then another, and suddenly with a burst of determination, she ran toward the ocean, splashing and laughing and kicking at the waves.
Change often calls us to walk through uncomfortable territory.
But, the God of our understanding does not expect us to do what we can’t. My daughter and I couldn’t have arrived at the beach had we not been carried by the 7 hour plane trip. But at some point, we have to put our feet down and walk.
Walking is an act of both courage and hope. And we move forward not by trusting in our own feet, but in a God who calls us toward the wide-open waters of life.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv