Popham Beach State Park, Maine
In a recent Worldwide Leadership Training Conference, attendees heard someone’s thoughts on “that thing that is of most worth to a woman in this life.” If someone asked you what that “thing of most worth” is, how would you answer?
Some years ago I went through a very tough time. Metaphorically speaking I felt like my ribs had been extracted. My pulses and rhythms still functioned, but my supports and protection were gone. My mother had just died. My kids were asserting themselves in creative and dumbfounding ways, following their natural call to become “agents unto themselves.” My husband was reorganizing his heart and soul, doing important internal work, but I had no idea where I’d end up when his “remodeling” was over. My soul felt like it was, to quote Yeats, “turning and turning in a widening gyre.”
In the midst of this untethering, our family joined another family for a week at a cabin in Maine. One day we piled into our cars and headed to Popham Beach State Park. As we pulled into the parking lot, the cassette player (yes, it was a while ago) blared John Rutter’s “For the Beauty of the Earth” loud enough to shake the minivan walls. It certainly fit the gorgeous setting.
The kids piled out of the car and dashed for the sand. My husband and my friend’s husband went off on a manly walk-about. My friend and I settled with the other sunbathers on beach towels. Since the tide was out, the water wasn’t that close. She read her book, and I—well, I stewed in the possibility that I could lose absolutely everything I valued. Not just in a cosmic way; it was practical, too. I was too far away to be of any physical use to my kids in the water if something dire happened. It wasn’t out of the question that my husband could decide just not to come back.
As I lay there pondering, praying, trying to keep breathing in and out (despite the lack of ribs), a passage of scripture came to my mind. It was Romans 8:35-38:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The first thing I noticed was the checklist of worries. I wasn’t too concerned about famine, nakedness, sword or principalities, but pretty much the rest of the travails seemed like present dangers.
Then I focused on the powerful bookend consolations: “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord”. I let the meaning sweep over me like soothing tidewaters.
I found out as we headed to the car after our afternoon at the beach that the real tidewaters had been up to no good.
My 8 year old (who had only just had his first swimming lessons) told me he had been standing in the shallow waters but got knocked over by a good wave. After much sputtering and angst he righted himself. It was scary for him, but in the end it was a successful accomplishment that improved his confidence.
The other two, along with our friends’ son (all good swimmers), had ventured further out. My 11-year-old found himself unable to catch up with the older two and began floundering. An attentive lifeguard caught him, brought him to the other two and helped all three of them get back to safer grounds. “There are undertows out there,” the lifeguard told them. “Sometimes they’re impossible to fight.”
Those three older kids were snickering and poking each other by the time we got the story out of them, laughter being just a cover for the fright of their close call.
My husband came back with our friend no worse for the walk.
I thought again about that scripture and the fact that I really could have lost at least one child that day. God wasn’t joking with His litany of things that could occur. God wasn’t telling me, “Don’t worry. I’ll take all these difficulties away.” He was saying, “If everything you treasure gets stripped away from you or life takes you or your dear ones to unimaginably hard places, I will always know and love you, Linda. I will always love you. Hold on to this truth, this hope. Hold on.”
That thing that is of most worth for this woman in this life is to live the gospel with a sense of God’s unwavering and radical love for her.