Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.
For the rest of the trip, I took his advice and became quite familiar with the unchanging coastline near us. Did it help? Yes. There’s no doubt that I felt better. Then again, “better” is a relative term, and I wouldn’t go nearly so far as saying I felt good. Stepping off that boat at the end of the day onto real, firm, solid ground was a relief, even though it took my stomach a while to catch up with my feet.
A lot of time has passed since that fishing trip, but recently I’ve had the awful feeling again, even as I stand on the ground. Much of what felt solid about the world around me is now rolling in unexpected directions. Things that were stable and secure my whole life have become unpredictable and unreliable. The waves of this pandemic have thrown the world off balance. Add to that a variety of recent political scandals and the reality of Brexit, and the uncertainty increases for Ireland, my home. Then I look across the ocean and see the nation I grew up in rocked by surges of anger and violence, with a steadily rising tide of distrust and disunity. Meanwhile, people around me struggle with bereavement, loss of income, or the loneliness and isolation of another lockdown. I feel bad. It’s getting harder to focus on the important things and people right in front of me. All I want is for the floor to stop moving—is that so much to ask?
I’m not big enough to stop the waves, but the fisherman’s advice is still good. As the world around me shifts unpredictably (and my heart falls and rises along with it), there is still something firm and steadfast, something unchanging and reliable, to turn my eyes to. The shifting challenges around me are not the whole story of reality. In the Psalms, King David followed the same advice for himself that the fisherman gave me in the boat. He writes in Psalm 61,
“Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.”
David felt (quite often) the world shifting under him, and responded by keeping his eyes fixed on what he knew was solid. He lifted his eyes to God, unchanging, above the surging trouble, and remembered God’s strength and promises for His children. This gave David a reference point, and provided him with the confidence he needed to be able to roll with the waves around him.
I don’t pretend to know how long the waves we’re in right now will last or what new waves will find us next. All I know is that my own eyes are going to become as familiar as they can with the solid coastline of unchanging truth that God has shown me in his Word. Perhaps eventually I can even learn to walk as confidently through this rocking world as the fisherman did on the boat. I hope so.