This summer we packed up our family of four and moved to start a new journey in Florida. The sites of palm trees, the sounds of the roaring waves at the beach, the smell of the salty air and the flavors of fresh seafood are just the tip of the iceberg of the new experiences we have had since moving in August.
We have been in Florida now almost three months. This move has allowed me to connect to God in a new and fresh way. With frequent trips to the beach I have become amused on several occasions by the Sandpiper birds that will flock the beach from time to time.
The sandpiper has taught me about my relationship to God. The sandpiper has exposed a nuance of my faith that has held me from going deeper in relationship with God.
I watch the flocks as they swarm in and land on the warm and soft sand. They seem to be in harmony with the head sandpiper who landed first.
The little birds with their tiny legs scurry from place to place looking for any delicacy they can grab hold of, crabs and the like. As they scurry about there is always one bird that seems to take his own path.
Over the course of just a couple of minutes this one sandpiper is all alone. It’s now separated from the flock. Hunting and searching for its own ocean delicacies to feast on. It seems totally oblivious that it’s been left in the dust – or sand!
Finally, after a few minutes go by the little sandpiper that’s fallen behind notices the significant gap between him and the rest of the flock. He looks up, looks around and scuttles across the sand as fast as his legs will carry him.
The legs of the sandpiper move briskly to the point they are a blur as the sandpiper races to catch up to his flock.
Lessons to be learned from nature are present all the time we choose to pay attention to them. Lessons and the presence of God can always be found in nature and creation.
This little Sandpiper, who was left behind is no different.
As I watched this hysterical bird try and catch up, the Lord began to minister to my heart.
The Lord brought to mind various times when I have felt like struggling sandpiper. Moments when I have been the one lagging behind. Trying to catch up. Trying to participate in what my “flock” was doing.
For example, right out of college, Marshall and I chose to do campus ministry. It wasn’t the “easy” choice. It was a hard choice. We moved to PA, into a male residence hall as newlyweds. We chose to participate in ministry, helping college students understand that all of life is ministry – even their vocation.
We spent three years in that ministry. And there were countless times when I would hear what my high school friends or college friends were doing, how they were progressing in their careers, getting promotions, and there I was. Living with 108 college guys.
These comparisons made my heart feel like the legs of the sandpiper. My heart scuttled and flitted, and I became sad, discontent and frustrated. I complained to God, “why?” “Why is the path you chose for us?”
There I was, little, short legs that moved at the speed of lightening, just like the sandpiper, to try and catch up with what I perceived everyone else my age and credentials was accomplishing or achieving.
Of course, I never thought to ask what they were sacrificing, what they were giving up, what their struggles were. I just painted a rosy picture of what they experienced.
To make my own self-pity worse, I would hear the voices of people around me who also questioned why I would “give up my education” for support raising and college students.
In spite of my complaining, frustration, and my struggle of feeling left behind, left in the dust or sand of what my friends were doing, God equipped me with the tools to be ready for the next position he would call me to.
I learned strategic planning in ministry to college students. I gained a hunger for the redemption of all things – even business. I learned how to see God in all things – in vocation, and in movies and music, in art and creativity, in coffee, in good food, in fellowship. I gained a hunger for abundant life.
I also learned as a campus minister where provisions come from. Not from my hard work and a job well done, but from the blessed hand of my heavenly father.
The Lord brought to mind the times other times when I have just felt behind – or felt the need to compare or compete. Even with Marshall, my husband. Nothing is by chance right. God paired me (5’0”) with a (6’0”) man. Anytime we go on a walk together I look and feel like a sandpiper.
My little legs racing back and forth to try and stay caught up, to not fall behind, and even sometimes I start jogging, because jogging turns out to be easier than walking at such an incredible rate!
It’s actually quite comical to watch I’m sure. Our neighbors have had the opportunity to have plenty of chuckles since we arrived in this neighborhood!
While at the beach, captivated by the sandpipers, God drew my heart and mind to these scenes from my distant and not so distant past when I have felt compelled to make like a sandpiper and catch up with whomever I have determined to be the person I am comparing myself to.
As these pictures shuffled through my mind, God spoke to my heart. He taught me three things that day from the sandpiper.
- As long as I am comparing myself I will never feel at rest or be able to rest.
- As long as I’m trying to catch up to someone else, I will never fully step into the path God has set aside just for me.
- He made me able to run fast, he made me a sprinter, not so I could catch up, but so I could carry the torch in a new direction.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” How is joy in our present circumstance possible if we are in want of something else?
The Bible instructs that we each have our own load to carry, our own path to plow. Read with me, Galatians 6:4-5 which says, “Each of you must examine your own actions. Then you can be proud of your own accomplishments without comparing yourself to others. Assume your own responsibility.”
We are in fact responsible to carry out the work that God has planned in advance for us to do until the day of Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:10)
The sandpiper and his legs of fury have instructed me about my heart toward myself and toward God’s chosen path for me. I am to carry a torch – live out the call he has placed on my life – and stop trying to live out the call he has placed on the life of someone else.
Do you find yourself in this same scenario, constantly feeling the pressure to perform or produce in such a way that you meet the expectations of others?
Do you feel like you are in constant in pursuit of the next better opportunity and not able to enjoy what’s right around you?
Do you always feel left in the dust, like the little sandpiper?
What if God is saying to you, this is the path I have chosen for you. What if God never intended us to chase after the path of someone else, but to rise up in the path he paved for us.
What if he made you fast for a reason? What if God is waiting for you to begin sprinting in the opposite direction of your flock? Who will you chase after? Who will you pursue and follow?
Will you walk the path God has called you to, your vocation, even if it doesn’t look like your friends, or your tribe or family? Even if you hear the other sandpipers chirping at you to follow them?
I encourage you to allow the holy spirit to guide you to see the areas of your life where you have been comparing yourself to others, and see where God wants to draw you back to the path He has for you.
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Photo Credit : The talented, Marshall Winslow, Winslow Photography