Later this month my family will head to the beach for vacation. I’ll build sand castles with grandchildren, soak up the sun, body surf, play golf, eat more than I should and in general step out of my normal routine. But I expect something else will happen there, too. I’ve learned that a week at the beach is also a great opportunity for spiritual renewal.
At the beach, it’s like you flip the switch in your head labeled “obligation” to another setting called “living.”
That probably comes as a surprise because spiritual renewal is the last thing most of us are looking for when we go to the beach. It’s the place so laid back that you can wear a bathing suit and tee shirt all week without anyone lifting an eyebrow. No one needs to make an appointment to see you. You don’t have to take your kids to practice, a game, a concert or some kind of activity. You can stay up as late as you want to because you don’t have to go to work the next day. Instead, you can spend the week sticking your toes in the sand, tasting the salt air, enjoying the fresh wind blowing off the water and listening to the roar of waves. At the beach, it’s like you flip the switch in your head labeled “obligation” to another setting called “living.”
But with a little foresight, spiritual renewal can be part of the package. Here are a few ways I’ve found that help make my beach week not just a time of physical and mental relaxation but also the occasion for the restoration of my spirit:
Don’t over-think the whole spiritual renewal thing. Those of us who’ve been around the church for most of our lives are so diligent and conscientious about our devotional practices that we feel guilty if we don’t read our prescribed number of Bible chapters each day or spend however many minutes of prayer we’ve allotted in our personal plan. I wonder sometimes if the Lord doesn’t wish we just hung out more in his presence than work so hard at fulfilling our spiritual agendas—like a dad who enjoys the company of his children more than hearing them recite their achievements to him day after day. We benefit more than we realize from just hanging out with our Daddy. The beach is perfect for changing our spiritual gears. For more about how important it is to teach our kids this principle, here’s a previous post on “Five Steps to Leading Your Children to Faith.”
A walk along the ocean’s edge early in the morning or late in the evening is one of the best ways of getting in touch with the Lord.
Carve out some personal time. Even if you’re with a family or a group, take an hour or so each day to be by yourself, soaking in the sights, sounds, tastes and textures the beach offers. There’s something about the landscape where land, water and sky come together that speaks to our souls. The early church used the word “hesychasm”—it means rest, quietness or silence—to describe the stillness of heart necessary to hear God’s voice. A walk along the ocean’s edge early in the morning or late in the evening is one of the best ways of getting in touch with the Lord.
Set aside the devotional guide you normally use and read the Psalms. Maybe pick one or two to read and pray through during the week. Psalm 84 (“How lovely are thy dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs and even yearns for the courts of the Lord”) or Psalm 42 (“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God”) are a couple of examples. The prayers expressed by the book of Psalms get us beyond the rationalistic approach to spiritual growth that we tend to focus on and into the realm of pure love and desire. I’ve found that spending a few minutes in the morning with a particular Psalm—or even just a couple of phrases or lines from a Psalm—changes the way the day feels. More than that, the Psalms have the peculiar quality of being able to ignite spiritual passion like nothing else. The beach is perfect for the kind of spiritual renewal the Psalms offer.
A week spent at the beach is always fun and relaxing. But when you can also be spiritually refreshed, then it’s a true vacation.