Last year was the first year our family of four ventured into the realm of family vacations. I was apprehensive at first. We were headed to the beach, and beach vacations prior to kids involved very little moving, a lot of reading, and not much talking. Beach vacations after kids is, pretty much the exact opposite. But last year we went to this beautiful house in a quiet beach town, and on the beach itself? The best of both worlds. A “lake” of sorts—as my kids called it—formed by the inner coastal waterway on one side of a stretch of sand and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The vacation was a success. So this year we went back.

Hitting up the “lake” was fine. It was convenient, and for little boys more confident than their lack of swimming ability should make them, the lake was a nice alternative to the tides, currents and waves of the Gulf.

But I didn’t love it. The color, for one, was a progressive rainbow of shades, starting with yellow, progressing to orange, red and then a deep brown. Not exactly welcoming. The temperature was warm, making one wonder what exactly all the toddlers were doing in the shallow waters of the lake. But maybe most of all, it had this going against it: It wasn’t the Gulf.

Every morning we would drag our chairs, bags, boogie boards, coolers and buckets across the sand and I would, every day, stubbornly place my chair facing the Gulf. I could feel the breeze. I could watch the waves. I could spot dolphins. And every day, not more than ten minutes after arriving I would have to reposition my chair to keep my eyes on the lake. My boys didn’t want to play in the waves. They preferred warm and suspiciously colored water instead.

In the Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Watching my boys play in brown and too warm water while the real deal was yards away made me think of what Lewis suggested. Not necessarily in terms of our desires, but in terms of how we relate to God.

So often, I settle when it comes to my experience with God—of who I’ve made God out to be. I gravitate towards safe. I like knowable and searchable boundaries and predictability. I like to believe I have God figured out, taming Him and shrinking Him, until I’ve made Him something far different from who He ever claimed to be. And in the process, I lose the essence of who He is—His bigness, His otherness, His wildness—in search of comfortable, knowable, and domesticated. In other words, l reduce Him to the ease of a lake at the expense of wonder in the Gulf.

And it’s a shame. Because just a few feet away, behind my back, there is a virtual other universe to be explored—an invitation to experience something far larger than I’m comfortable with.

With a mysterious God, I’m not in control.
With an unpredictable God, I can’t map out His behavior.
With an other God, no formula I employ will get to the heart of Him.

And that’s terrifying. To experience God so out of bounds from how I’ve painted Him to be. But it’s real. I could live my whole life playing in the sands off the shores of a brown lake, tricking myself into believing I’ve had the full experience, fooling myself into thinking this is all I need to know, satisfying myself with mud pies in the slum, because I can’t imagine a holiday at the sea.

And I might be fine. But I have a hard time believing God wants the relationship with His children to be defined as fine.

I imagine He’s like me with my boys. Entertaining our safe and comfortable worlds for awhile, but every day, setting up the beach chairs in view of the Gulf, in hopes we might get bored with the shallow, lukewarm water, and want to venture into the crashing waves and foaming tides instead. I imagine He’s waiting for us to come to our senses, whether in a moment of inspiration, or in a rush of frustration and decide to leave the lake behind and dip our toes into the real deal—knowing when we do, we’d hardly be able to return to the placid waters behind us.

I imagine God is waiting for us to invite His mystery into our lives. To relinquish some control. To surrender our need for understanding everything, that we might understand enough—that He’s better than safe. He’s big. And He’s mysterious. And what He calls us to experience is for our good and always out of love.

The last day of the beach this year, we put a nix on lake time. At least for a little while. We picked up our boys and carried them into the Gulf. We waded past the swirling shells, we pushed through the breaker line, and then we let them feel the rise and swell of each wave as it approached and then left. They shivered in the chillier water, and yelled to be heard. They laughed and squealed. They splashed and hung on for dear life.

It was nothing like the “lake”. It was better.

But they never would have known that, had they not first been coaxed into letting go of what they knew, for the experience to try something different. Something that ended up exceeding their wildest expectations.

On most days I really do believe God is better and bigger and more promising than I can imagine. I believe He is looking to surprise me—with Himself. I believe God is inviting me beyond what I may expect or think I know of Him in order to have an experience with Him that is nothing like I’ve known before that will leave me different than how I was before.

On most days. But there are still days I settle for the lake.

Still, every time I come to my senses, I turn back around and find a Heavenly Father who’s waiting to take me back, ready to try again, inviting me into the water, eager and anxious for me to discover more of Himself in the process—how big He is. How mysterious he is. How good He is. And so much more.