Living only a few miles from the ocean in Southeast Florida, I have the opportunity to enjoy it all the time. I appreciate it for many of the same qualities that others do: its power, vastness, rhythmic regularity, blueness, and beauty. What I love most, though, is taking it in at night. The crowds are gone, it’s peaceful, and the darkness all around me adds an element of mystery and excitement that makes me feel fully alive inside. I feel this way when I am on shore, but especially so when I venture into the ocean water. It is here that God lifts a veil and gives me a glimpse of something that is readily available to so many, but enjoyed by so few:
I met Rachel in June of 2013 when we were both serving at a youth camp in North Carolina, and in July, she came with some family and friends down from Virginia to visit me. Of course, I had to take her to the beach at night because it’s one of my favorite things to do. And thankfully, unbelievably, God decided to gift us with one of the most romantic evenings ever. The ocean was warm and incredibly still – like a sheet of glass. I’ve honestly never experienced such tranquility out there. It was like God stopped time, and the tides, and the world from spinning, just for us, just for a boy and a girl who He had remarkably brought together for a moment, for a miracle, and perhaps maybe for a lifetime. And I just carried her in the water with her arms wrapped around my neck, and we just twirled and spun around, and around, and around. I was completely and hopelessly spellbound by all that she was. Rachel was impossibly beautiful that night. She just shined, and shined, and I just shook my head and couldn’t stop smiling as I held her against me.
That would have been enough, but God likes to outdo Himself sometimes with how He chooses to bless us. Far away to the Southeast were some ominous storm clouds, and soon enough the dark skies way, way out in that direction began to flash brightly with lightning. This added yet another layer of awe and wonder to our night together, and we were both flipping out that we were here and no one else was around, and we were witnessing something beyond magical.
But there was still more to experience, more to enthrall our imaginations and hearts. While we were playing and thrashing and laughing in the Atlantic, we started to notice little flecks in the water light up and fade out. And we realized that we were stirring them up! They were phosphorescent phytoplankton, and they were absolutely everywhere, little sparkles so bright and enthusiastic, perhaps gushing their approval at the love story they were witnessing unfold. I remember thinking to myself in that moment: I could stay here forever. You simply cannot manufacture experiences like these. It has to be God. Only He can go above and beyond like this, delighting in us as we were delighting in His presence and His creation.
So many cool things have happened to me while at the beach at night. I’ve seen 500-pound mama loggerhead turtles come up out of the water and lay their eggs under the light of the moon. We’ve been swimming when little baby turtles – hatched only a few minutes before on shore – crawl back into the water and bump up against our bodies while we swam around. Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw a gigantic nurse shark. And apart from all of these glimpses of sea life, I just feel so close to God when out there in the water. I wish everyone could feel that.
But most individuals don’t go out and enjoy the ocean at night.
This is perfectly understandable. It’s super fun during the day, and arguably a lot safer. I mean, you can see everything in and around the water, there are lifeguards and people everywhere, and if anything bad possibly happens – you can call out for help.
The ocean at night is, without a doubt, full of unknowns. You can’t see where you’re stepping, you don’t know what’s in the water around you, and you don’t know what is headed your way. You feel almost helpless. You don’t seem to have any control.
But after thinking about it, to me it seems that the ocean at night and the ocean during the day are – for the most part – equally safe. Or equally dangerous – however you want to view it. You could step on a sea creature like a crab or a man-of-war pretty easily in the light or in the dark. You could cut yourself on a sharp rock or broken shell regardless of whether the sun or moon is out. And – yes, I’ll go there – you could be bitten by a shark during of the middle of the day or the middle of the night.
The difference is that during the day, we have more of an illusion of control. We like control. Heck, I love control. But at night, it all feels so very unknown and, by consequence, a little scary. Maybe even a lot scary.
I’m not going to lie to you – every time I go into the ocean at night, I do wonder a bit about what might be lurking in the shoreline waters, just waiting to strike me at the legs. And I’ve often role-played defending myself from a shark by (you guessed it) punching it in the face. But, I tell myself not to let fear hold me back from an amazing experience, and I say a quick but earnest prayer for strength and courage, and I dive on in.
And I am always the better for it.
One of the most popular songs in Christian circles right now (and I think in the last decade) is Oceans by Hillsong United. Pretty much everyone at my church loves this song, and feel like God speaks to them through it. And this same sentiment has been expressed by so many others across the nation, and even across the world. Here are some of the lyrics from the first and second verses – which you may already know by heart:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Not to sound dramatic, but this is what I have to believe. This is how I want to keep living, this is how I must keep living. This, to me, is childlike faith. I don’t want to miss out on experiencing Him, experiencing all He has for me, because I’m afraid of the dark, the deep, the unknown. Every time I have let go of the need to control, and stepped out and away from the safety and comfort I could tell was holding me back, He has rewarded me and shown me His favor. Every time I have pushed through fear, my faith has been taken to the next level, and I’ve been able to accomplish what I never thought possible.
Every time I have let go of the need to control, and stepped out and away from the safety and comfort I could tell was holding me back, He has rewarded me and shown me His favor.
But every time I have played it safe and stayed on the shore, I have missed out. Everyone wants to experience that which is epic, and transcendent, and legendary. Everyone wants (and needs) transformative pivot points and breakthroughs as they write the story of their lives. But the odds are that if you’re hoping and searching for bioluminescent-filled moments in your life, you’re going to have to get into the water, and go a bit deep. And you’re going to have to do it not when it’s easy and comfortable – during the day, but when it’s hard and unnerving and scary – during the night.
God is calling us into the deep. He wants to dazzle us, and that’s where the magic happens. But He also wants us to show Him we really, really want it – and are willing to swim out a bit to get it.
What is the “bioluminescence” in your life that you want to see and experience, but know that fear has kept you from taking the necessary steps towards it?