Recently I went with three old friends to the Jersey Shore. We are all of different ages and church backgrounds, but years ago we had worked together in the same office and our mutual faith in Christ had helped us become close friends. Over the years, we have gone through quite a lot together, one way and another. One of them has access to a cottage a block from the beach, and we try to get to the shore each year for a couple of days; catching up and renewing old connections. We each have different burdens in our lives, and have found that a little time at the shore always renews and refreshes us.
One of the women and her sister care for their invalid mother. My friend must maintain tremendous energy to do all she does. She comes home from work each noon time to attend to her mother’s needs and make sure she is comfortable. Their mother is paralyzed from the waist down, and their home is small and not wheelchair friendly. It is a physical struggle as well as an emotional one. My friend provides basic nursing care with tubes, catheters and whatever else is necessary. She helps maneuver her mother into the bathroom, and helps her get bathed and dressed. She must physically get her into and out of their wheelchair accessible van for trips to the doctor or church, when her mother is able. It requires great strength to push the chair up the van’s ramp and into a secure position, watching carefully so that her mother is not jostled. Like many single working women, the two sisters must also prepare the meals, clean the house, and mow the grass on top of full time jobs. Even while we are away, she calls frequently to reassure her sister, who is nervous about unfamiliar nursing tasks, and make sure all is well. I have never once heard my friend sound tired or cross, and her mother knows that she is loved and treasured, and not a burden.
The second woman has been separated from her bi-polar husband for many years, but because he now needs to be in a nursing home situation and has no one else to help him, continues to care for him. She goes to the facility several nights a week after work, making sure he takes his meds, seeing that he is doing his exercises, and so on. In the past, he was difficult and demanding, and although he has mellowed somewhat as he has aged, he has now become very dependent on her. She continues to go in a cheerful, caring mood, ignoring his negativism and paranoia. Along with her sisters, she also is involved, in the care of their very aged father and stepmother. It is very draining, but she does it all in the name of the Lord, with sweetness and grace.
The third woman’s husband had a deeply painful cancer for the past four years, and he had just recently gone home to be with the Lord. They had a beautiful and deep love affair, and she is totally bereft without him. During his illness, they both faced things with peace and trust, but she didn’t realize how much she would miss him. She is trying to deal with his absence in faith, but can’t help asking ‘why’ in her darkest moments. This trip to the shore she was still raw with pain, and she needed to talk about it. Although we occasionally tried gently to divert her thoughts to other channels, somehow the conversation always came back to her husband and the last few days of his life, and her concerns for her children and grandchildren, and their grief. The only thing we could do was let her talk, and try to be supportive and loving. It wasn’t a burden; it is just what friends do for each other, but it made many of our conversations serious and thought-provoking. Not a bad thing.
My burden is simply the fact of old age and the physical changes and various insecurities which that has brought to my life. I am not in a care-giver situation, but my life has changed in various negative ways, and I am finding it a challenge to have gone from fully functioning to being less secure in almost every aspect of my life. My burden, it seemed to me, was the lightest and the least significant, and I looked in awe and respect at these three younger friends who are living such difficult lives. Although the love of Christ shines out of them in spite of the constant drain on their emotional and physical resources, my heart was troubled when I saw the fatigue on their faces, and knew that their burdens stretched out in front of them for a long time. I was discouraged for them, and knew there was essentially no way I could help except to pray. Somehow, it didn’t seem enough.
The trip to the shore was to be a little oasis of peace in the midst of all this. I love the ocean, and when I lived on Cape Cod for a few years it was frequently one of my joys to go to the beach in the very early morning, and walk the sand and watch the sunrise. I hadn’t been able to do that for a very long time, and so, when I found myself awake very early one morning, I decided to take advantage of my circumstances and renew my love affair with the dawn.
As soon as I could get up and dressed, I slipped carefully down the stairs in the dark, and walked the block to the beach. I climbed the path and stood on the crest of a hill and looked due east. In that moment I seemed to be alone, and let myself enjoy the sense of connection with the sky and the sea. Most of the sky was still dark, but straight ahead was a faint ribbon of pale pink and gold, just above the horizon. It was chilly, and I pulled my cuffs down over my hands and shrank into my hoodie to feel the warmth. There was a strong, cold wind, and the towering waves soared high over the top of the jetty to my left. They rolled in, inexorably, rising and falling in thunderous cadence. As the light slowly increased, I was able to see that I wasn’t completely alone on the beach. On the jetty I could make out three people just standing and watching, as I was, motionless in the spray and fall-out from the waves.
Very gradually the light grew, the pink and gold expanding to cover more and more of the sky, but the sun had not yet broken the horizon. Finally a very thin arc of deep rose began to emerge from the line of the horizon, and the sun, with elegant deliberation, moved steadily upward until finally the darkness had all disappeared. I stood there transfixed, unwilling to let go of the enchantment of the moment. As I stood watching the sky, and listening to the constant roar of the waves, I felt all tension and anxiety drain from my mind. The waves were hypnotic, and calmness and healing washed over me as I let myself respond to their rhythm. I felt like primitive man: the light had returned to the sky, and all was well. All I could think of was part of Psalm 139: “Oh LORD, my Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…You have set your glory above the heavens…when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?”
I let myself rest in Him in that moment, and knew with total certainty that all our struggles, all our disciplines and trials, are just temporary. I let myself remember that the Creator of all this beauty and power knows my name; that He loves me, and is available to hear me when I cry out to Him in need. I don’t need to be afraid. I thought of the burdens my friends are carrying, and prayed for them and for myself, and committed us all into His care. I knew, without question, that He was sufficient to get all of us through whatever problems we have in this life. I remembered Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice! …The Lord is near, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.” Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the magnificence of His creation and His mercy, and I silently wept in worship, completely humbled by the reality of His love and grace.
I am so grateful that He allowed me that moment. It renewed my sense of perspective, and started me out on the next week refreshed and serene. How can I be afraid, when the God of all creation has me secure under His wing, and covered with His feathers? (Psalm 17:8) Thank you, Father, for Your encouragement, Your comfort, and Your knowing just how to remind me of Who You are and how much You love us.
I am a 77 year old who has been a believer for over 60 years. I have been writing fairly intensely for the past six years. I wanted to discover, with God, the answers to many questions: solitude vs. loneliness; how to be old in a world driven by activism; how to be content in whatever circumstances the Lord allows, and so on. I have found the bottom line of all my inquiries is the same: trust God, and obey what you understand of His will. Through submission to His Word and His will, growth and understanding and peace will happen. It is my hope that sharing what I have found will encourage others in their own personal searches.