Due to the fact that this is the month many spend time away at the beach, and because I’ve just recently experienced the tragic and unexpected deaths of a close family member and the same happened to a family in our Church family, I felt led to share this Insights article from the past. I pray it will provide hope for any who need it.
One of my favorite things to do is run on the beach. On one particular vacation, I decided to rise early and run with the sunrise. While running, I looked down to see a small fragment of what I believed to be a conch shell sticking out of the sand. There wasn’t much of the shell protruding through the thick, dark sand, but it was enough to stop me in my tracks. As I stooped over to try and pick it up, I wondered, “What if, just what if, this shell is still intact?” If it was, it would be a first for me. Up until this time, I had always been sparked by the prospect of finding an entire conch shell in its natural environment, only to be sadly deflated when I dug it out of the sand, and found that it was just a fragment of a shell.
In this instance, I expected to find the typical, broken fragments of a shell that had once been laced with beauty and symmetry, only to be ripped apart by the ocean waves, shifting sands, and storms at sea. I pulled on the corner of the shell and it did not budge. There was hope, just maybe this shell was still unscathed by the furor of the sea! It intrigued me enough to abandon my run and begin digging in the sand to find out. After a few minutes of digging and pulling, there it was…amazing! I had finally done it! It took half a lifetime to do it, but right there on the North Carolina Coast, I pulled an entire conch shell out of the deep sand. It was not without imperfection, as there was a scar here, a disfigurement there, but for the most part, this conch shell was still fully formed, fully shaped and together, and it was glimmering with allurement and glamour!
I washed the shell off, took it home with me and gave it to my youngest son Baylon. He was so excited! It still sits on his bedroom dresser, proudly displayed. But there are parts of him that still think I bought it in a store. Nothing could be further from the truth. As rare as it is, it’s the real thing, an uncommon find that rises above the ordinary. But the shell actually has more significance to me than just being a dresser ornament. It has significance to me because of what I heard an old seaman say one time. He said,
Most of the shells you will find on the beach will be a broken fragment of what once was. But on a rare occasion, you’ll find a shell that is still fully intact. When you do, you will have found something of great value. Don’t overlook it! The shells that are broken are as such because they have resisted and fought the crash of the waves, the storms, the raging currents, and shifting sands their entire existence. The shells that remain fully intact are those that have discovered the great secret of submitting to the storms, the raging currents, the shifting sands, and the crash of the waves. They have discovered that not resisting them is crucial to their formation and their beauty. They cannot circumvent them, so they roll with them. They accept them because they realize those crashing waves, storms, and shifting sands are necessary for making them what they are fully supposed to be. Such is life.
Ever since that moment, I’ve searched in hopes of finding a shell of such rarity. On that North Caroline beach, I found one. And the more I look at it, the more it tells that story. But I would add to that story, such is the faith-centered life. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light and momentary struggles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” That verse is one of the only things that has ever made any sense of the suffering and anguish of this world, of this existence we call life. It’s the only thing that has ever made sense of the mind-numbing, unexplainable affliction this life can assail us with at times. The storms, the shifting sands, the crashing waves, the raging currents…they have to be doing something. They must have a purpose for something that is far greater and far better than anything we can imagine. It’s the only thing that makes sense of an incurable diagnosis or an untimely death or tragedy.
If we can learn to not resist those crashing waves or circumvent them, but to accept them and roll with them as part of the plan, then there has to be something forming that is so far beyond description that nothing else will compare to it. There has to be something awaiting such a magnanimous discovery that it will make sense of it all, and words won’t be able to describe it. There has to be some treasure, some glory that lies deeper. Submission and surrender doesn’t mean giving up or giving in. It doesn’t mean there’s not a willful battle or there is never healing or deliverance. It simply means that regardless of the outcome, we realize, even if it’s our own fault, God will redeem it and purpose it for something of value. It means we know that it’s doing something, even when it hurts and is not comfortable.
But it will require faith, and it will require trust. In the crashing waves, we’ll be pounded, but we’ll also be changed. In the in-between moments of the mundane, we’ll rest on the sand and enjoy the warmth and comfort of the sun. But we’ll also be aware that we are waiting to be carried back out to sea for more.
Do these types of shells really exist in human form? They do. They are just as rare as the fully formed shells on the shore, but they exist. I’ve seen them, I’ve done life and faith with them and most commonly found them, not on a seashore, but sitting in a church pew. They are rare, but if you invest in a church body of people, you’ll find them. When you find these rarities, you’ll never be the same. But in order to find them, you must take the risk to ride upon the waves of relationship with others. You will have to show up, release yourself, and take down the walls around you. It could make you vulnerable, but it will make you better. This is not by accident. It is a divine appointment.
One more interesting thing about shells. Most seashells are nothing more than a temporary home for a wide variety of animals. The same is true in the Christian life. Most of the people who learn to roll with the storms and crashing waves in life are able to do so because they realize the storm is preparing them for their eternal home. Everything here is just temporary and will be far surpassed by the glory of what the current or next storm is producing.
The waves have a much different sound to me these days. The shells and the storms have a much different look. Each time I see one or hear a wave, I am reminded of the hope that something better is being built, and something better is always on the way.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”