A few years ago, around 2004 I think, a few girlfriends invited me to spend a week with them at a beach in Florida. My children were still young, things were busy at work and, honestly, it felt too overwhelming to make all the necessary arrangements to leave my life for a whole week. My girlfriends, in their intensely stubborn love, had secret conversations with my husband and a conspiracy was born. So I went.
The moment I arrived in Panama City on that warm October day, I knew exactly what I needed to do. My agenda for the week would be to rest my soul. I hadn’t realized until I was removed from my responsibilities how much pent up stress I had been carrying around, how empty I had become… and how tired my body and mind were! I couldn’t remember the last time I had allowed myself to let down all the guards that helped me keep it all together. My life at that time was filled with uncertainty, duty, financial stress and some family dynamics I really didn’t know how to process.
The girls seemed to instinctively know (perhaps better than I did) how drained I had become emotionally and spiritually. They graciously encouraged me to spent the week however I wanted, without any expectations from them. So every morning I would park myself in a lawn chair underneath a beach umbrella that I had purchased at the Panama City Walmart. I would cover every exposed inch of my fair, freckled skin with sunblock… and sit… staring out at the water for hours on end. I listened to music on a portable CD player hour after hour, until it began to skip mid-week because it got sand in it. I journaled. I prayed. I slept a little. I thought a lot. I reflected on the choices I had made up to that point in my life and gave some serious consideration to what I wanted the rest of my life to look like — not from a materialistic or logistical standpoint, but from the perspective of my heart and all the insecurities, fears and self-effacing habits I had developed to protect myself from… well… myself.
After about day four of doing this routine for hours and hours, I was finally drawn to the water. I don’t even like water. I prefer dry land. But I remember very specifically standing there with the water rolling up my toes onto my feet, feeling the warm sunshine swallow me up, listening to the consistent rise and fall of the powerful ocean waves and sensing for the first time in a long time the immensity of God. As far as my eye could see the water went on, and on, and on… and I knew it went so much further than I could see or even fathom. I felt almost as if creation was calling out to me.
I often get very leery when people claim that “God told me this… or that…” But I really don’t have any other way of explaining what happened inside me in those beautiful moments at the edge of the water. I remember very specifically the message that engulfed me. It went to the very depths of my understanding. I knew what I was hearing at the core of my being couldn’t possibly have come from my own frame of reference. So I listened.
As I allowed the water to touch the tips of my toes, I was suddenly aware that this was a picture of my life. I heard, not with my ears but in my spirit… “Emily, this ocean is only a small example of the love I have for you. You’ve felt the edges of it with the tips of your toes, but there is so much more available than you have ever experienced. Why let me barely touch You when you could dive into my very depths?” I was overcome with the thought that for everything I thought I knew of Him, there was so much more I didn’t know.
I prayed a little prayer on the water’s edge. I gave God permission to do whatever He wanted in me. And I’m not going to lie to you… that prayer was the beginning of some very deep, dark days as I began to let go of my familiar coping mechanisms and let Him teach me new ways of dealing with my neediness. Those moments began a long, sometimes painful journey through my misconceptions of Him. I became acutely aware that I had been living in spiritual poverty. I had thought I was experiencing His abundance and endlessness, but in truth I had been trying to experience the depths of Him while standing on the safe familiarity of dry land. I now know that I can’t have it both ways.
I’ve learned to be careful what I ask! If we ask Him to unleash Himself in our hearts… He will do it! And it will feel scary. It will take us to places we would never have chosen. It will stretch us beyond what we ever thought possible. But that, my friends, is the only way He can truly prove that His mercy goes deeper than we will ever go. He is eternal. And we are not. So trying to measure, define or contain Him into our limited resources is simply never going to happen. But to feel His realness in the deep is an experience I would not trade for anything in this world. It’s an experience that has proven to me that I can trust Him with everything. What a relief that has been.
The following song was born as a result of this experience. If there has ever been anything I ever wanted to say to the world… this is it.
Lord the ocean of Your love is vast
But I’ve been standing on the shore
For every glimpse I have seen of You
I know there’s so much more
E B C#m B A2
So I’m diving in, I want to know
Just how deep the water goes
E B C#m A2 E
Wash me in the endless sea of mercies undiscovered
B C#m A2 E G/B
I’m trusting You with everything, to see what You’ll uncover
A2 B F#m(C#m) C#m (E2/G#)
Like treasures in the deep, oh God reveal to me
Your mercies undiscovered
When the tide awakens all my fears
Still I know who holds the sea
Mysterious and far from shore
You hold me close to set me free
The deeper I dive, the deeper You go
And in the dark Your mercies flow
Crashing all around me
Waves I can’t control
Here I go into the great unknown
But I’m not alone
TAG: Lord, the ocean of Your love is vast…
No more standing on the shore.
Lyrics: Emily Sutherland / Music: Kenneth Klabunde, Rich Dundore & Scott Naylor