Hold your ear up to a seashell and you can “hear the ocean,” but if you listen to it even more carefully, it can instruct you on beauty and redemption in the universe.
Back in February, one of my best friends and I went down to Santa Monica beach early on a Sunday morning. Before leaving in the late afternoon, I insisted upon finding her a seashell.
Up and down the coast I hunted for a shell. I wasn’t interested in the broken or incomplete ones; I wanted to find something excellent to serve as a small, physical reminder of an excellent day (one look at my room would tell you I am a hoarder of such objects). While I splashed through the retreating ocean trying to find a shell in the seconds between waves, she mostly watched from a dry distance. As the minutes rolled by, I eventually looked back at her, shaking my head in disappointment. She smiled back at me holding up something high in her hand. Racing back to her, I saw she held an ice cream-yellow and white seashell, about the size of my palm. She found the shell without truly trying. But the feeling of unfairness burned off as I closely examined it.
I was struck first by its beauty but then by an idea: “What if,” I asked myself, “the entire coast was covered in shells similar to this one?” “What if seashells were as prevalent as pine cones in a forest? So prevalent you could hardly walk without stepping on one… to the point of them being a nuisance to your bare feet?”
“Would you have stopped to pick this one up?”
“No” I answer to myself.
The conversation in my head continues, “But, would not the beauty of this shell be equal regardless of whether if it were surrounded by others?” “Yes, it would be just as beautiful.” “So, it is not the beauty of the shell that would change, merely your perception of it?” “Yes.”
I realize the scarcity of seashells along Santa Monica’s beach is a gift, a grace of God. Not because it makes the shells more valuable; it makes me value them more. I notice how the economic law of supply and demand applies only to our perception of value, not the object’s actual value. I mumble out loud, “the grace of scarcity” while still holding the shell.
My brain quickly races away: but is this not true of all things? I become accustomed to the “normal” parts of life: studying engineering at UCLA, friends I see each week, church gatherings I attend every Sunday, family I interact with regularly. If I am not careful, they all become pine cones in my mind. The blessings are so regular and plentiful that I begin to apply “the law” of supply and demand. The supply of day-to-day, ordinary life experiences often seems so large, it could not be THAT valuable. But honestly, what is more valuable than a church body to belong to, a family to love, my dream educational route, or my daily health? The seashell is a reminder to cherish the small and hidden, yet also the steady, consistent, daily blessings. They are often the most beautiful things in life I notice the least.
And what is more beautiful, more prevalent, and more taken for granted than the continuous, ever present, daily mercies of God? God’s sacrificial, all sufficient love for mankind is the most beautiful thing in the entire universe, is the most apparent, and the most ignored. He reveals Himself in creation, in His living, written Word, in the Word-as-Flesh, in the hearts of believers. God is speaking everywhere. And it all points to His beautiful redemptive plan for all of creation. Because He lavishes His love so richly upon me, I often go day-to-day without noticing it. Part of my growing in Christ is to remind myself daily of what He has done and is doing. Do not treat His blessings as pine cones! Cherish it like a rare seashell.
Christ tells us in Matthew 13:45-46, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Christ describes someone in search of the kingdom of heaven as a merchant searching through clam shells. Upon finding a pearl, the Gospel, the merchant realizes it is worth more than all else he has combined. However, there is a second meaning within this parable: Christ is the merchant, and His church is the pearl of great price that He gives up everything to have.
So when we (as members of Christ’s church) feel apathetic in our mundane, suburban existences or frustrated with our days, Emmanuel! God is with us. He has bought you with a price. Grasping the full weight of God’s love for you should leave you flat on your stomach. He gave himself up for you.
So when you feel isolated by grief, awake late into the night questioning, “Where is God?” Rest knowing He is with you. He finds you more valuable than all else. No matter what your feelings or experiences tell you, God, His beauty, and His care do not pop in and out of your life. His love is not scarce like a seashell on a the beach; it is the beach itself.
His word is all around you. In Genesis, we are taught that creation exists by the spoken word of God. What holds the chair you are sitting on together? Answer: The spoken word of God. What holds the planets in their orbit? The spoken word of God. Your cellphone? Word of God. Your toilet bowl? Word of God. The high heels you tripped in? Word of God.
Additionally, we have the complete, perfect revelation; the full story of God’s words in the Holy Scriptures. With His word around us and alive in Scripture, doubting where God is when you feel alone is like asking, “Where is the sand?” when you are buried up to your neck at the beach.
You are never alone, you have never suffered something He has not, you have never felt a grief He does not understand, you cannot face something He has not faced. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! God is with you. The God who is near. The God of heaven and earth. The God of all hope and endurance. His beauty and His grace are all around you. Do not grow numb to it.
Keep hunting for seashells, remembering The Merchant God willing to sell everything for you, His church. Just as a great sunset is awe-inspiring no matter how many of them you have witnessed, let the daily mercies of God strike your heart. And when faced with real or apparent scarcity, let it lead you to repentance of the mercies you have taken for granted, and guide you back to His abundance.
Hold Fast, Jordon von Helf