This spring my husband and I spent several days along the shore of Lake Michigan. Lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds certainly have their own appeal, but there’s something about the vastness of oceans, seas, and even the Great Lakes that really draws me.
I’m calmed by the meditative nature of the water. Sometimes I focus on a swell out in the distance and watch as it rolls toward shore, builds, breaks, and washes up on the beach only to fall away again.
Other times I let the rhythm of the whole play in the background while I write or simply sit and watch my favorite colors shift across the surface. The tranquil blues and greens and grays and browns reflect the sky—deepening under banks of clouds, sparkling in the sunlight, and turning almost iridescent at sunrise and twilight.
In the spaciousness, I find room to breath. The vast, mostly empty surface suggests a simplicity, veiling the complexity of currents and living things below. Water supports beauty, life, recreation, and travel. It can also be a vehicle of suffering, despair, and death.
It’s easy to get so caught up in my small everyday world and get a skewed view of my place in the grander scheme of things. I only see my familiar home, my familiar grocery store, my familiar people. I only visit my familiar places online and do my familiar activities. While there is a level of safety in all that familiarity, it keeps my world very small.
And the smaller my world is, the bigger I seem in relation to it.
It’s counterintuitive in a way. As my familiar world shrinks smaller, it should seem like nothing I do matters. It should feel fine to make mistakes and try things. But that isn’t the case at all.
When I get so focused on the everyday life around me, it’s easy to lose perspective. When I only encounter a few people and connect with even fewer and when I don’t travel far if I travel at all, the boundaries of my world narrow.
When I am one of the few beings in my tiny world, I seem very important.
Anything I do or say may have a big impact on my surroundings or on the people around me. Every choice is felt and ripples through my environment. If I choose not to wash the dishes, I can expect stink and clutter later. If I forget to close a window on a cold night, my world gets chilly. If I say an unkind thing, the people in my little world are upset with me. If I voice a new idea, it doesn’t take many people disagreeing for me to feel like I’m the only one who thinks that way.
The narrower I focus my world, the larger and more important I become in it. Often the very reason my world gets smaller and smaller is because I try to limit it to what I can control. I stay home because it is comfortable and known. I shop at familiar stores because I know what to expect and can more easily control the selection, cost, and time. I interact with the same people because I know how they’ll react and I can control myself to fit their expectations.
When I put myself in control, there’s so much responsibility to not make mistakes.
When all I see is the impact my words and actions have on my own little world, I start to think they also have a disproportionate impact on the greater world. The pressure can stop me from acting at all. What if I get it wrong? What if I make a poor choice or make a mistake? I’ll be messing so much up. I’ll be harming so many people.
Sitting and watching the big bodies of water helps me put myself back in perspective. My words have the power to hurt or to heal. My actions have the power to create or destroy. But most of it is on a fairly small scale. One person at a time. One dream at a time.
Watching the waves crash onto the beach over and over. In the sun. In the fog. At night. At noon. Their rhythm reminds me that while I do have an impact, it’s not as big as I build it up in my mind. There is something bigger than me.
The waves will keep crashing whether I share my thoughts or hide them away. The waves will keep crashing whether I have hundreds of friends or none. The waves will keep crashing whether or not I wash the dishes.
The waves will keep crashing whether I pay attention or not, whether I’m present or not. No decision I make will be enough to effectively alter their rhythm. Nothing I do or say can spin this planet out of orbit.
I want to make my corner of the world a better place, but thinking I’m bigger and more important than I am can actually make that harder instead of easier.
I don’t want to believe that I have no power to make a difference. That isn’t helpful or true. But when I start believing every decision I make threatens to tilt the world out of balance, I stop doing anything at all.
I don’t want to be so zeroed in on micromanaging my tiny world that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Nor do I want to be so overwhelmed by all the brokenness and need in the world that I believe anything I have to contribute is too small to be worthwhile.
I want to be present where I am and find my own place in the rhythm of the world. I want to say here I am, this is what I have to give.