Red Sea Faith
My pastor once described faith by telling a story about his youngest daughter, on her first trip to the ocean, simply lying back on the water and floating, looking so relaxed he thought she may have fallen asleep. That kind of relaxed trust, he said, is one picture of faith. When he told the story, I thought of my own experience of going to the Dead Sea in Israel. Because of the high content of salt and other minerals, the water of the Dead Sea is very dense, and its natural buoyancy allows anyone in it to float. All I had to do when I went into the water was lay back, and my feet floated up to the surface in front of me as if I were made of cork. I am often afraid in deep water, since I am not a strong swimmer, but in the Dead Sea, which is over 1,000 feet deep in some places, I had no fear of drowning. I could not have gone under if I had tried. And because of the water’s density of minerals, no aquatic life can survive, so I knew that there were no sharks or stingrays or any of the other creatures I sometimes fear in the ocean. My friends and I swam very far from shore, but I was unafraid, completely relaxed.
The following week, I had a very different aquatic experience. We crossed the border into Egypt and checked into our resort in Tabgha, where we would spend only one night on the shore of the Red Sea. As we entered the water, the sandy bottom dropped away quickly, much like in the Dead Sea. But here, I definitely did not float. Instead, my head nearly slipped under, and I caught a mouthful of seawater before I began to kick my legs and tread water. Not being used to doing so, it took great effort to stay afloat. And what must have been some kind of creature in the jellyfish family stung me about a dozen times in the hour that we spent in the water. It felt like an insect sting each time, the pain subsiding after a few minutes, just in time to get stung again. But I refused to return to the shore. “This is the Red Sea,” I told myself. “THE Red Sea, the one in the Bible. It's one of those places I'd only heard about, read about in books, and now I'm here. I may never get another chance to swim in the Red Sea. It's so beautiful. I'm not getting out, no matter what.” I stayed in the water after most of my friends had already returned to their beach chairs, watching the sun sink behind the mountains of the opposite shore in another country.
In my own life, the Red Sea experience has been a better metaphor for faith than the Dead Sea. Faith is often a struggle. I have to fight to stay afloat, and there are days when I just keep getting stung by something I can't even see or identify. But I still believe it is the best thing. Sometimes I might have to grit my teeth and use all my willpower to talk myself into staying in it, but that is better than getting out.
God, we want faith to be easy, but so often it is just not. Circumstances of our lives sting us and try to pull us down, and it would seem to make much more sense just to get out of this faith thing altogether. Help us to make the hard choice to keep trusting you instead, even when it is the complete opposite of effortless floating. Amen.-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent