Soak in the love of the God of unlimited shells.
by Scarlet Hiltibidal
It WASN’T ON MY BUCKET LIST, but I can now say I’ve moved two bunnies across the country. Last week, my husband, our three children, two rabbits, and I (along with too much luggage) moved from one side of the United States to the other. We went from a quiet farm in Tennessee to a two-bedroom Airbnb in Southern California. Pros: We’re staying a mile from the beach, and the bunnies seem to have bonded over the ordeal. Cons: The storm door fell off the first time we opened it, and apparently sometimes used drug needles can be found in the sand of our local park.
Unfortunately, my anxiety doesn’t take any days off, even in California weather.
I grew up in Los Angeles, so I’m grateful to be out west again. I love the ocean, the palm trees, and the diversity of people. I also discovered a new restaurant straight out of heaven called Chronic Tacos. But the thing is, I run on panic mode all the time. My MO is to look past the beauty and guacamole and zero in on the possibility of earthquakes and gang violence and needles at the park.
Thankfully, Jesus is more powerful than my MO. I don’t only have a proclivity to worry. I have a faith in the work of Christ and a history with Him, which helps me remember that the God who made the oceans also made a way to free all people everywhere from anything there is to be afraid of. The God who invented the beauty of Tennessee and Southern California wants to provide peace for those of us who tend toward panic and insulated living.
He came to show us what love is and how it makes us free.
I saw a beautiful picture of this while watching my daughters play on the Pacific coast this week. As I witnessed all three of them approach the majesty of the ocean in a different way, it caused me to examine my heart and how I approach the Lord.
In my thinking, there are three ways we can approach this anxiety-inducing world today and the one God who loves us through it all.
We Can Hide
My middle daughter is “indoorsy.” She’s cautious and artistic and doesn’t like sand on her feet. When we were sitting on the beach her back was right up against mine as she meticulously selected and dusted off the nearest seashells. She didn’t want to be near the waves or the water or any threat of discomfort or dirtiness. She wanted to be on the beach towel, near mom, clean and safe.
Just like my seven-year-old avoids the thrill of beach play because sand is sometimes scratchy, we so often avoid involvement in life because we don’t want to be uncomfortable. We’ll keep people at arm’s length because relationships hurt. We’ll pray small prayers because we’re afraid of how big prayers might disrupt our comfort. We find ourselves homesick for other places or prior lives because maybe it seemed so much better then. We long to be free of friction, free of the possibility for failure, free of anything that might hurt our hearts along the way.
It sounds like that approach might reduce anxiety, but a protect-and-preserve mentality doesn’t work when you remember that sin and death don’t only exist in certain area codes or seasons of life. You can sit on a beach towel all day, but that won’t stop the wind from blowing sand in your eyes.
Just like I long for my middle daughter to enjoy life and be an active participant in it, despite its discomforts and pains, the Lord longs for His children to trust Him and live abundantly: “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10b). The Lord wants us to worship Him like little kids playing in the sand who know we’ve got a safe, warm place to lay our heads when the day is done.
Like the psalmist wrote in Psalm 136:6, the Lord “spread the land on waters.” The verse continues, “His faithful love endures forever.”
We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to hide. We’re loved forever in Jesus by the God who made the waters. Nothing gets to us without getting through Him, so we can get off the towel and jump into the ocean.
We Can Build
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2, ESV).
My oldest daughter is a doer. She doesn’t have time for lounging or snuggles. Never has. She’s got tasks to complete, goals to accomplish, intricate sandcastles to build. She is incredible, and I can already see God using her determination to accomplish wonderful things. But she struggles with perfectionism. That apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
When I took that popular Enneagram personality test, it pegged me “The Achiever.” Maybe you are like that too. I want to do things right and do things well and do a whole lot of things that are available to do. If I’m not careful, I can lose my mind striving to be good and successful and approved.
I believe the lie that I can do something, build something, be something that will make me feel settled and at peace. But God didn’t make us to build for ourselves. He made us to worship Him. God made us to use our gifts to glorify Him and build His kingdom. God wants us to enjoy building sandcastles, and we can’t enjoy it when we’re so focused on making things great for our own sake. Building sandcastles or careers or reputations or anything else is in vain when we do it with “anxious toil.”
Again, the waves are always coming and the castle will fall. Only the Lord can help His beloved rest. His Word reminds us that only what is built on Jesus will last. Only what’s built with His help will satisfy. Only when building with His strength can we fall asleep free from the worry that we haven’t done enough. Be still, builder. Jesus is enough.
We Can Look and Listen and Love
I love how God uses children to teach us about faith. In Matthew 18, Jesus’ disciples asked Him who was greatest in the kingdom of God. The Bible says Jesus called a small child over and answered His friends, “Truly I tell you … unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 3-4). The longer I parent, the more I understand what Jesus meant.
My youngest goes by “Dewy.” That’s not her name, but that’s what we call her. Every time I take her to the beach, she does the same thing. She runs up to the waves and stares at the ocean. She picks up tiny shell fragments and holds them up to her ear to listen. For a long time. Then, she’ll splash a little and laugh a little and join her sisters here and there. But mostly she just stands at the edge of the ocean and looks at it and smiles.
On one of our beach stops this week, she was playing with her sister, Joy, and accidentally jammed Joy’s finger. She felt so bad.
I assured her it wasn’t her fault, but she still felt terrible about it. For the rest of our time at the beach that day, she went to her usual spot, right where the waves lick at her toes, but instead of just looking, she got to work digging and collecting shells to give her hurt sister. She brought Joy shell after shell. Eventually, I said, “Dewy, you can keep some of those. You’ve given Joy plenty!” To which she replied, “No. I want to give all the shells to Joy.” And she did. Joy came home with a pocketful of shells. Dewy came home with none.
I was floored. Moving to a town where we can drive to the beach brought out my earthly fears and my misplaced priorities and my grumpy side. I’ve found myself uptight in all this change and fearful and snappy trying to feel at home in a place that’s unfamiliar. But my youngest daughter felt at home the moment we stepped off the plane. She didn’t flinch when the storm door fell off its hinges. And she didn’t mind getting messy in the sand if it meant she could stand and look at the ocean.
Little Dewy doesn’t know much about the world yet. Her faith hasn’t matured or been tested by the hard knocks of life. But when we tell her God made the ocean, she believes it, and she marvels at it, and it leads her to love others. It leads her to share her seashells. It leads her to use her hands and feet to comfort and love. I didn’t make her behave like that. I certainly don’t always model it. But her little act of love and faith strengthened mine so deeply.
We don’t have to be anxious about crime rates and cancers and cross-country moves. We’re loved by the God of unlimited grace, unlimited mercy, and unlimited shells. We can look out at the world and love it with hearts that are at peace and with buckets overflowing with “community shells” — as my girls call them — because we’re so loved, so blessed. We get to be givers of hope, carriers of love, children of God.
“See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are!” (1 John 3:1a).
Scarlet Hiltibidal is the author of the book Afraid of All the Things, Anxious: Fighting Anxiety with the Word of God, and other books and Bible studies. She and her husband live in California, where she loves learning/doing sign language with her daughters, nachos by herself, writing for her friends, and studying stand-up comedy with a passion that should be reserved for more important pursuits.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (September 2021). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.