As he tells the story, when my dad was in high school, he and six friends planned a clandestine sailing adventure to Catalina Island. Without telling their parents what they were really up to, these seven teenagers crammed into a 17-foot boat and set sail for Avalon. The plan was to sail across the channel, camp that night on the beach, and then return home the next day. With beautiful weather on the first leg of the trip, they made it to Catalina easily. But when they woke up the following morning, a thick marine layer had descended on the water, severely limiting visibility. The wise move would have been to wait until the fog lifted. But because they needed to return by a specific time, lest their parents discover what they had been up to, they felt they had no choice but to brave the return passage.
They concocted a plan to follow behind the Catalina Ferry. They figured that as long as they kept the large boat within their sights, they could make their way through the fog and safely return home. This proved to be folly. Not long into their return trip, they lost sight of both the land behind them, and the guide boat in front of them. They were completely surrounded by fog. Hour after hour passed. With no compass to direct them and no way to measure their progress, they found themselves completely disoriented, discouraged, and overwhelmed; uncertain if they were ever going to make it home.
Those are common feelings that afflict us when we find ourselves in the midst of the fog of life. Seasons of sudden change, turmoil, or uncertainty can leave us feeling like we have lost sight of the landmarks that normally orient our lives. This is something I have personally experienced in recent months. Grief, pain, and loss have threatened to overwhelm me. Challenges that exceed my wisdom and experience have obscured my vision. My disorientation at points has felt profound and it has been difficult to recognize where God is and what he is up to. What is so difficult about being in the fog is that you feel so uncertain of the direction you are headed. Am I moving closer to a safe harbor or towards an even greater threat? It is a scary and vulnerable place to be.
The way my dad tells the end of the story, in the late afternoon, just as they were beginning to lose all hope, the fog began to lift. And through the mist, they were able to see the Palos Verdes peninsula. The moment they could see that landmark, they instantly were able to reorient themselves and make their way back home. Disaster averted.
What strikes me about this story is that the presence of the peninsula had been there all along, they just couldn’t see it. And not being able to see it, didn’t make it any less there. I think that is the way that it is with us and God. In the midst of trials, it can be difficult to see God, to hear his voice, or to feel his presence. In those seasons we are tempted to lose hope, to give in to fear, and feel overwhelmed. But just because we struggle to see God, doesn’t mean he’s not there. In fact, God’s promise to his children throughout scripture is that he will never leave us or forsake us. It’s only when the fog begins to lift that we are able to recognize that he has been there all along.
I’m beginning to think that’s actually the point of “foggy” seasons. It is in the midst of our trials that we have the opportunity to surrender to God more fully, learning to walk by faith, not by sight, and entrusting ourselves into God’s hands when we are most vulnerable. I can’t quite tell if the fog of this season of my life is beginning to lift. I think I see a glimmer of something but I can’t quite make it out yet. And so, I will continue to wait on the Lord, trusting that he is holding onto me and leading me toward that safe harbor. May it be so with all of us.