When I was growing up, my family vacationed at the beach every single summer. Over the years, I became very comfortable riding the swells and diving under capping waves. After all, my first experience in the surf was when I was in diapers.
When I was about 11 years old, I learned how to body surf. If you’ve never tried it before, body surfing is when your body becomes the surfboard. When you catch a wave just right, it will lift you up and take you all the way to shore with just a little drop at the end. And let me tell you, that “just right” part? It’s addicting. But as with any developing skill, there is a great deal of trial and error—and sometimes that error hurts.
When you’re trying to catch a wave, if you go too early, you just ride the swell and look with longing on what a perfect wave it turned out to be without you. But, oh, if you are too late, you are in for a pounding. That wave will take you to the ocean floor and drag you across the bottom before spitting you out. In those moments, you are so disoriented with your lungs starting to cry for air, that it’s easy to panic a bit.
As I practiced that first summer, my father watched me as I tried to catch wave after wave, failing time and again while getting pummeled. Eventually, he waved me to shore and suggested that I take a break. I was out of breath and trembling from muscle exhaustion. I was very frustrated with myself and it showed.
After I caught my breath, my dad said to me, “I’ve been watching you out there and can see that you’re having a hard time. What do you think is happening?”
I knew this strategy. It was my father’s way of asking what my thought process was when he already had the answer.
With an exaggerated exhale I said, “I just can’t seem to time those stupid waves right. I don’t even have time to dive through them. I’m getting beat up and for the first time ever, I feel like I’m not going to find the surface in time. It’s freaking me out.”
My very wise father had some great advice for me that day.
“Karen, listen carefully to what I’m about to say because it’s a life lesson as well. While the ocean and its waves are a fun place to play, it’s more powerful than you will ever be, and you always need to remember that. When a wave gets a hold of you, fighting it is just going to make things worse. The wave is always going to win and, hear me now, no matter what you do, it is still taking you to shore. So the next time that happens, don’t ball yourself up or flail around in panic mode. Make yourself a starfish. Put your arms and legs out and surrender to the wave, let it take you where you need to be. In doing that, you are more likely to feel which way is up much faster.”
He sent me back out into the waves, and of course he was right. As I continued to practice, I got better at judging which waves were best and got some good rides. But when I was wrong, I surrendered to the wave and became a starfish. And sure enough, I found my way back to the surface quickly and easily. That was the day I developed the knack for body surfing.
Later that evening as we sat on the beach at dusk, my father commended me on using the starfish method and not giving up. He also told me about a passage in the Bible that speaks to the lesson on surrender I learned that day.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
My dad explained to me how those verses speak to surrender. “Sometimes life is going to throw stuff at you, and you’re not going to know which way is up. You might even feel like you’re drowning. God tells us to surrender everything to Him and He will take care of it every time. He is more powerful than anything He created.”
I sat in silence, letting that sink in. But my father had one more pearl of wisdom to offer me that night.
“You know another cool fact about starfish? When they cling to a rock, that’s the only time they have a chance at beating the strength of a wave. They use every little part of their being to cling to that immovable rock and as much as the wave pounds, they are safe. It’s how God designed them.”
He went on to share Psalm 94:22 with me:
“But the Lord is my refuge; my God is the rock of my protection.”
He explained that just like the starfish, we have a Rock to cling to as well. God is our Rock and our refuge. If we cling to Him, He will take care of us.
How easy my father made that sound. At eleven, my worries were small, but what a salve that has been for me in my adult life. Stop fighting what the world is throwing at you and just lay it down before God. Cling to Him with everything you have in you and the world will not be able to remove you from Him. He will not allow it.
Listening to my dad that night, I wondered again at how very wise and cool he was. As we headed back to the house, he looked at me and said, “Be a starfish, angel.” That night I was a starfish that cartwheeled with refreshed joy.