I never expected to get dragged out into the ocean. But there I was, 14 years old, and worst of all, I'd brought several other people with me.
It was a school camping trip to the beach. A teacher, a few classmates, and I happily floated on a plastic boat, bouncing up and down in the waves. I was cautious in the water. A childhood friend and his father had drowned on the rocks along this coastline. Today, however, everything felt safe. Then I noticed two younger girls out farther on a raft, screaming for help.
Yearning to comfort them, I jumped out of our boat. The force of my feet kicking off the edge capsized it. I got to the girls, but now we were all in the water and way out past where we should have been.
I'd been studying the ideas in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, and I found it a helpful companion book to the Bible.
One of the things I could flip to easily at the end of the first chapter of Science and Health was the Lord's Prayer. This prayer that Jesus gave us has an important message. Sometimes when I was in a tight spot, the Lord's Prayer really helped me out. It bumped my thought up a notch to a more spiritual perspective and renewed my focus on God. I was used to praying in every kind of situation. It wasn't any surprise that I turned directly to God as we clung to the boat and struggled to stay afloat.
First we tried to get back on top of the boat and the raft. Both those things were impossible. The waves were too steady, the plastic too slippery, and the water too deep. Our biggest enemy was the undertow, sucking us out a little more with each pull. Our screams and frantic gestures to the people on shore were fruitless. We were growing smaller and smaller to them. There was nothing to do but hang on and pray.
One prayer we all had in common was the Lord's Prayer. We began to say it out loud. The ocean roared, but we kept on, feet up, kicking, yelling out our prayer. Jesus' words had never felt so empowering before. "Our Father which art in heaven." If one of our dads had been there in a boat, he would have pulled us right out of the water. I remembered that God, our divine Parent, was there. We were never out of His sight.
Sometimes we have to hang on like that, using our prayers as buoys to keep us afloat. Prayer reminds us that we are safe even when human circumstances appear otherwise. It allows us to be brave in the face of danger. Prayer leads us beyond hope and into trust in God's unfailing care.
I don't know how long we were out there. Each minute seems like 10 when one slip of the hand could toss you into churning water. I do know that I was getting tired, and the younger girls were crying. Still, we kept shouting the Lord's Prayer. Unexpectedly a wave, bigger than the others and coming seemingly out of nowhere, gave us a giant push into shore. We stood up and staggered the rest of the way in.
Where had that wave come from? We all turned around to see. The waves looked normal, and nothing seemed unusual. Of course wave patterns vary, and none of us were ocean experts. But we felt touched by something more than the force of water. We felt touched by God. The others came running up and we all celebrated God's protecting hand.
That night I perched on the bluff overlooking the ocean. A younger boy came and sat near me. He had been on the sand watching us slip away and had been a witness to our joyous return. This boy was often in trouble and was known for his surly attitude. But as he sat down quietly next to me he said, "I don't know what you would have done if it hadn't been for God."
As I studied his earnest face and considered his unexpected remark, I realized that God's love embraces everyone. We were safe in the ocean, and our friends were comforted on land.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you.
Isaiah 43:2 New International Version