Pictures of Life from Pictures on the Beach

A week ago we were vacationing on the beach and were caught up in the anticipation of baby turtles emerging from their nests.  Now that we’re back in suburban Chicago, the urgency has diminished, but I can’t resist sharing three cultural observations sparked by a sea turtle send off. 

1) The importance of proximity. 

It was fun watching for baby turtles on the beach while living within a stone’s throw of two active nests.  The whole process was very immediate.  As we cheerfully escorted one little turtle into the water, a fine thing to do, the thought crossed my mind that  countless creatures and human beings live in desperate need and vulnerability, and too many have less support, encouragement and help than these turtles enjoy.  Wouldn’t our efforts be better spent assisting starving or sick people?

In our increasingly globalized and media saturated culture we are aware of needs all over the world.  Such information is good, because it moves us to provide real assistance, but it is also a burden.  I admit to a certain amount of compassion fatigue when I hear of earthquakes, famine, war, human trafficking of young girls, school kids shot in the city of Chicago, oppression…and so on.  It is just too much for my mind and my heart to handle.  Maybe, then, we invest our compassion in whatever picture of vulnerability we find right under our noses.  A turtle.  A stray dog.  A child.  A neighbor.  I think that is a perfectly appropriate thing to do.

Dallas Willard, philosopher and theologian, shared some wisdom in a lecture I attended last fall that has been very helpful to me when I feel inadequate in my response to the needs of the world.  He said, “As a disciple of Jesus I’m learning how to live my life in the Kingdom of God as he would if he were I.”   I do not live in, nor do I have resources, to help those in every war-torn or poverty-stricken place on the globe.  But I can show kindness to vulnerable and needy people in my general proximity.  I can live like Jesus would in my family, in my community, with my resources and knowledge.  That’s all I can do.

2) Risk avoidance.

In my humble opinion, we have become a ridiculously risk-averse society.  Reasonable safeguards are one thing, but regulating everything that ever caused an accident is quite another.  I am all for increasing the odds of sea turtle survival, but this picture raises several questions in my mind:   Do we hyper-manage the little risks (like a turtle getting out if its nest) out of frustration over our inability to reduce the larger risks (like predators in the ocean)?  Is risk regulation ultimately liberating or limiting?  In whom or what do we place our trust: human knowledge and our ability to control risk or God’s sovereign oversight of our circumstances?

3) Preparing the way. 

As a parent, I understand the impulse to smooth the way for a child.  When my children were young I tried do just that, until I learned two things: It is impossible, and it is not good for them.  The real danger for children is not that they will encounter rough terrain, for they will, but that they will fail to develop the skills and strength of character to navigate through it.

An easy life is not always good for adults either.  The above scene can also be a picture of God leading us into new and potentially risky arenas.  He goes before us in all things; sometimes to smooth our paths and other times to expertly allow obstacles that will teach us to seek him instead of seeking comfort.  I will never understand his ways, but I am learning to trust his heart.

How do you feel about risk?  Do you attempt to manage or control or avoid risk?  Do the world’s problems feel overwhelming to you?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

5 thoughts on “Pictures of Life from Pictures on the Beach

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  1. So thought provoking! I often ponder how Jesus came to earth in the time in history that he did. As he travelled the land in which he lived by foot and by donkey, his heart was often filled with compassion for the spiritual and physical needs of those he encountered… seems to me he was all about both. I wonder… if he were a guest in my home and we were about to recline at my kitchen table for a meal and an evening of fellowship… and the 5 o’clock news came on with images of adults and children starving to death in Somalia… how would that affect our time together? As a present day believer… I can have that conversation with him at any time. I think our hearts would be heavy together. He might comfort me or he might convict me. He might lead me to pray… he might lead me to write a check… or he might stir my heart and soul to the point of starting an NPO! In our still moments with Jesus he will guide our thoughts and actions to be like his… to peacefully be or to purposefully do. Psalm 46:10, Ephesians 2:10

    1. Wondering and imagining with you…Jesus was so settled in his actions because he took his direction from the Father alone. As you point out, we can do the same thing as we follow Him today. I wonder how often he was heavy-hearted? Surely he understood the spiritual and physical vulnerability around him at a very deep level. He met many needs, but he didn’t meet them all. He wept at Lazarus’s grave, and he wept over Jerusalem, knowing the disaster that was ahead, as he entered the city to face his own trauma. Maybe our hearts are heavy together in a very real sense. So we respond as he directs – sometimes in small ways and other times maybe in more dramatic action. Yes – “to peacefull be or to purposefully do.” Excellent! Thanks Susie.

  2. It’s always amazing to me to step back from the New Testament and appreciate how little Jesus did in his lifetime. There were power hungry states all around Israel. People were starving, mistreated, neglected right under his nose. He did not start any foundations. He kicked temple money over rather than covet or invest it. All he did was speak words that inflated people’s spirits to reach for God. And his word and example has created the world as we know it. 2000 years of impact on humanity. Pretty amazing! It’s tempting to think we are supposed to do MORE than Jesus did, but we’re not. We are only supposed to do AS he did…pray ceaselessly, trust endlessly, let God drive OUR unique spirit to its final destination. Our calling in life is not to be frustrated that the world is imperfect, but satisfied that we come from and reside in perfection.

    1. You make an excellent observation, Beth. Along with that thought, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he did not send them off to solve world hunger but to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). He breathed the Spirit of God on them and gave them authority to forgive sins, not to take political leadership (John 20:21-22). He did heal, deliver, and feed the people in the crowds that gathered around him, but those miracles were not the primary purpose of his ministry. He came to heal our spiritual poverty, not to correct social poverty. Sometimes I wonder if our tendency to “do good” – to work hard to solve injustice and meet needs in the world – is a clever distraction from our desperate need for forgiveness, for peace with God, for internal wholeness and increasing Christlikeness. Thank you for reminding me that ultimate satisfaction and perfection is found in Christ.

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