Reflections on Gift from the Sea
This book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, borrowed from a very patient friend, has waited on the shelf beneath my desk for probably well over a year, waiting, though I didn’t know it, for this vacation, this perfect time to uncover its pages. The author writes in the setting of a beach vacation she has taken away from her family, and I sit and read it on a beach in the Dominican Republic away from my own children, and the words wash up over my soul and help that tight weariness in the very center of me to unwind.
“When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, the one cannot touch others…. Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude” (Lindbergh 38).
I love how she captures this relationship between solitude and community. I find myself longing for both and at times they can seem mutually exclusive. Which do I want, after all, to be known or to be alone? But the answer is that I deeply want and need both and that they feed each other. In the busy rhythm of my life, continually in connection with my husband, my three children, my thirty students and their parents, my friends, my extended family—in the middle of this community which I love, which I love being needed by and being able to pour out into—in the middle of this, I also crave hours of being completely disconnected and alone.
And I need those hours of solitude to replenish, so that I have something to give to all those people I find myself in connection with. I need to intentionally break connection from time to time, whether it is for a few days now in the Dominican Republic, or a few minutes in the quiet of an early morning at home—I need to break connection so that my soul can refill and I can reconnect with a self that is not a dry river bed but a fountain.
This is true for every human being, but particularly for us who know God we find it resonates deeply with the Spirit within us.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14). It is in solitude that we reconnect the Living Water, the spring of water welling up inside us, the indwelling Spirit. And it is then in community that we reconnect with others who have this same Spirit inside themselves.
“For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes…. The problem is … more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel” (Lindberg 22-23).
This winter I have not remained whole and balanced. Stretched at the center with Ben working so much overtime, the children having such constant needs, my work busy as it always is in January and February with so many students writing more complicated papers and needing help and grades and how do a structure an introduction paragraph and how do I cite a website, while menu plans need to be made, the fridge needs to be cleaned, what’s for dinner, Mommy I need to go potty, Mommy she’s hitting me again, and in the middle of it all I feel the tension between—this is the life I love—and—if this doesn’t stop, I am going to go insane.
I absolutely deeply and dearly love my people, I love that I can use my gifts to serve them, I know this is a season of life I will look back on and miss, but in the middle, in the moment, I can feel driven to distraction.
“I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible…. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for… when he said, ‘May the outward and inward man be at one’” (Lindbergh 17).
It’s easy to feel simplicity and peace today when I have absolutely nothing to do, no one to see but my husband, today when sea breezes rustle the leaves of coconut palms far overhead but my question is how to carry this back home. How can I live in the middle of my normal life, at peace, in grace, with unity between my inner heart and outer experience?
I can carve out time alone, without feeling guilty or obligated.
I can simplify and remove from my life unnecessary distractions.
I can continue to help my children learn to be responsible and independent and respect my boundaries and the boundaries of others.
I can freely say “no” to all the things I shouldn’t do so that I can preserve my “yes” to the people I’m called to.
I can pay attention to the warning lights in my life—those lights on the dashboard, the anxiety, the raised voice, the inner tension—that if ignored turn into panic, insomnia, depression, conflicts—I can pay attention and stop, slow down, stop expecting myself to be God (and allowing other people to expect of me that I can be God, omnipotent, omnipresent, meeting all their needs). I can without shame acknowledge my humanness and my need to rest, to regroup, to heal before reentering the fray.
Jesus, thank You that You never felt ashamed or afraid to rest, that after six days of employing Your creative power to make such vastness and such beauty, You rested to show us that we could rest, too. Thank You that when You walked our earth and faced endless needs and demands, You carved Your own path following the Father. Help me to follow Your example. Amen.