The largest south swell of the year hit the west coast during the last week of April. If you surf, you already know this. Even if you’ve visited the beach in the last few weeks, you probably noticed larger waves. As a surfer, I was thrilled to hear this news!
Because the waves were so good, I’ve been surfing about two or three times a week at El Porto, just north of Manhattan Beach. One thing I love about surfing is that it’s the perfect blend of focus and boredom. Moving and waiting. Chaos and peace. Activity and stillness. Noise and near silence. Each of these poles exists in a single surf session.
When I see a set coming in the distance, I have a laser-like focus on the waves. I’m paddling hard to position myself in the corner of the wave. I’m scanning the lineup to see if other surfers will attempt to catch the same wave. I’m trying to determine if the wave will just crumble over or if it will be hollow and require a quicker pop-up. I’m thinking about the wind conditions and how that might affect the wave. I’m looking down the line to see if I might run into someone. I’m assessing whether or not it will be a closeout or if there’s a clean corner for me to ride down the line. There are all sorts of things that are going through my mind before I actually catch the wave.
But in between sets, there is space. With nothing to do in between sets and no phone on me, there is a lot of space to notice things while I wait for the next waves to roll through. It feels harder and harder to engage in the practice of holy noticing when there is so much content available for us to consume. This makes surfing (and taking a shower) unique. There is space to be bored. Because this is rare, it feels rather sacred.
I’ve noticed all sorts of things recently. One of the things I’ve noticed has to do with drifting. Because the most recent swell was coming from a storm track in the south pacific, it would gradually push me north up the beach. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even notice that the current was causing me to drift. I wouldn’t notice it until I was “out of position,” meaning that I wasn’t in the right spot to catch the wave where it was breaking. I’d turn around to look back at the beach and I’d realize that I had drifted north anywhere from 50 to 100 yards. That meant paddling back against the current to reposition in the right spot. Not fun.
This happened multiple times before I made any change. I realized that I needed an anchor point on the shore. Some type of landmark to fix my sight on to keep me in position. Luckily, at El Porto, there are a bunch of lifeguard towers lining the sand. I’ve been paddling out at tower 40, which is one of the spots where the waves break. So in between sets I’ve been making a habit of turning around to make sure I’m lined up with tower 40. Even if I drift a bit north, I’m able to catch myself much sooner and paddle only a few yards back to my spot. Having a reference point makes it much easier to recalibrate.
You know as well as I do that when it comes to following Jesus we also can easily drift. We get caught in the currents of distractions, politics, news, Netflix, our phones, our jobs, etc. Even good things like family or relationships or a hobby can cause us to drift if that’s where our main focus is fixed. Like surfing, sometimes we drift without even noticing. All of a sudden, we can notice how far we've drifted and it's easy to think, "How did this happen!"
Jesus is our tower 40. He is our reference point, our landmark, the place we look to when we need to reposition ourselves. This is why Hebrews 12 reminds us to "...run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Colossians 3:2 instructs us to fix our eyes on things above, not on earthly things. Clearly, Paul is not telling us to walk around staring at the sky. The point is to keep our focus on Jesus, on his life, on his teachings, on his character, on his attitudes, on his power. When we make a habit of turning our minds towards Christ, we actually begin to change.
I remember having a bracelet when I was little that said WWJD. It stood for "what would Jesus do?" You might remember these bracelets if you were following Jesus in the 90s. The point was to imagine how Jesus would respond or think or feel in a given situation. The bracelet was a reminder to recalibrate to Jesus. I'm sure that movement served God's purposes, but a better question might be, "what did Jesus do?" We have the Gospels that give us great insight into the life of Jesus. How did Jesus serve others? How did Jesus respond to conflict? How did Jesus interact with the politics of his day? How did Jesus prioritize prayer? How did Jesus pursue intentional relationships? How did Jesus interact with the marginalized, immigrants, outsiders? You get the point. There are all sorts of questions to ask about how Jesus lived.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus can feel a bit ethereal because we can't actually see Jesus with our physical eyes. A simple and practical way to do this is to go to one of the Gospels and look specifically at how Jesus lived. As you read, ask some of these "How did Jesus..." type questions. I've been doing this recently with the gospel of Matthew and it has been so encouraging. You may find yourself in a season where you are spiritually thriving. But if you've drifted a bit, I'd encourage you to turn your head and fix your gaze on Jesus. Drifting is inevitable so don't beat yourself up if that's you. Jesus, in His grace, is constantly inviting us back to experience the fullness of life with Him. Sometimes all it takes is just turning our heads a bit.