There are few things that I enjoy more than walking along the Jersey Shore, off season. The sand is damp and unmoving and the waves are shades of steel with icy caps that foam and fade. The boardwalk is nearly empty for miles in either direction. The wind has forced all but a few people away, and those few walk with intensity against the wind. This is a prayer walker’s paradise, for even spoken words can’t be detected or overheard in the wind.
The bridge is covered with signs of warnings and rules to cross the bridge, and lights with various purposes add neon polka dots to the otherwise-dark, wet and impersonal structure. A foreboding camera is aimed at all who pass over, whether by car, bike or foot. I have seen the bridge open with long lines of cars waiting to pass over. The process seemed to take longer than I had patience to wait, so I would pause, then resist temptation to cross over to see what’s on the other side. Blissfully content to stay on familiar ground, I would about-face and forward march.
Blissfully content to stay on familiar ground, I would about-face and forward march.
Recently, my curiosity overcame my reticence. It was the last off-season weekend and I left the coziness of our bed and breakfast, well-supplied for a chilly 6 to 7 mile walk. This would usually mean going in one direction, u-turning at the bridge, then walking past the point of start in the other direction to do a large boardwalk circle. As I approached the bridge, the waves crashing against the piled rocks below were an intense, translucent navy against the linen sky. I looked beyond at their continuing beauty and decided to climb the arched walkway that lined the road and see what lay beyond.
I was thoroughly content with the familiar architecture of the homes and businesses that fronted the Atlantic Ocean where we habitually chose to getaway. I loved the even boardwalk with no surprises. Admittedly, I actually rose to possessive identification with the stretch; in off-season, this was my boardwalk when so few people cared to claim it. But here I was, in uncharted territory, and I realized how big the world was, just by walking an additional 500 feet.
But here I was, in uncharted territory, and I realized how big the world was, just by walking an additional 500 feet.
This was a profound experience for me. It was a prophetic moment when God’s inaudible words penetrated my soul. I have been in a long season of transition and uncertainty, and my prayers were full of pleas for wisdom. Oh, God, I prayed, help me to know which choice to make. As I walked the brand new boardwalk, a product of rebuilding from the storm known as Sandy, my heart flooded with delight and hope. How little my world had been, compared to the world that God knows and created. Even though I still could not imagine what was next, I knew that what lie ahead was not well-trodden territory; it had yet to be revealed.
At that moment, I understood that I had tried to rearrange the contents of my present to accommodate my future. I could not imagine or see what was ahead, and so I kept replaying my past, trying to contort old things to fit changing relationships and situations that no longer held their former shapes. I walked and walked, taking in the postcard-perfect waves to my left. To my right, I passed blocks and blocks of gorgeous, ambitious, hopeful and architecturally stunning rebuilt homes to the right. I knew that that God was doing a new thing;
“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”– (Isaiah 43:19)
I felt humbled and foolish. How long had I been walking up and down the same two or three miles of beach when the shoreline was 1,000 miles long? All that stood between me and the miles of opportunity and potential purposes and blessings was my unwillingness to cross a bridge?
Sometimes we need to take a risk. Sometimes we need to try new things. Sometimes we need to position ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order to see what God has for us. When we read about the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt, it is easy for us to shake our heads at their inability to move ahead to take The Promise Land. The reality is that many of us know that God has promised much to us. But we like what we know, and we fear what we do not know. When God speaks to Joshua, He also speaks to us;
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”– (Joshua 1:9)
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”