The soft, grainy sand between my toes, rising and falling with the cold waves, the push and pull of the current, the warm sun and the gentle breeze – the joys of a beach trip. The end of summer brings cooler days that lend themselves to lazing away from late morning to early evening without feeling like a castaway parched for water – searching the sky for an albatross. “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
The benefit of going to the beach in season is that there are lifeguards to protect you from drifting out too far, warn you about sharks and other dangers, and rescue you if you begin to flounder. The lifeguards have a system. They scan up, down, over, and across at a steady pace. They have a specific area for which they are responsible that overlaps slightly with the next lifeguard stand. They are relieved frequently, so they don’t burn out or become lax in their duties. After switching, they may be assigned to garbage clean up, beach patrol in dune buggies, concession stand work, or going into the red zone to tell people to get out of the water. Swimming is only allowed between the green flags – in red flag zones, swimming is prohibited.
You would think that the red zones on beaches would be empty since swimming is disallowed. You’d be wrong. Though not as packed as officially guarded areas, they are still teeming with sunbathers and beachgoers. Often they are in the water – swimming, splashing, and enjoying the freedom of having no guard to tell them what they can and can not do. This particular freedom comes with an inherent danger. No one is responsible for watching your back.
Having recently visited the beach, and positioning ourselves close to the no swimming zone, I was curious to see how lifeguards responded to rogue swimmers. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t just ignore them. In fact, periodically, lifeguards would run or drive by, blow their whistles at swimmers, and wave emphatically until they got out of the water. “You can’t swim here. You need to be between the green flags” All day long I heard the same thing repeated over and over – often to the same swimmers.
How like us.
We know it’s dangerous – yet we venture out anyway. We won’t drown, we won’t be swept away. I can swim. We are really saying, I know better – I don’t need a lifeguard.
Years ago, at the same beach, I saw a scene play out similar to the ones I saw the other day. A boy kept going out past where he should have. Although he was between the green flags, he was farther out in the water, past the area which the guards normally covered. The lifeguards kept telling him to come in. He would for a while and then head right back out again. I stopped paying attention to the child to watch my own. Suddenly, I saw one lifeguard jump down from his perch into a pile of soft sand – a second guard came running to take his place, a third in a boat began furiously paddling, as the guard from the stand was flying through the choppy waves- red floaty in hand, desperately trying to reach the flailing child who had been suddenly swept away and overcome.
Why do we push our luck?
Why do we test God?
Why do we always think we know better?
The lifeguard’s vantage point gives him a more complete picture. He can spot sharks, rip currents, rogue waves, and countless other dangers that those of us who are busy being buffeted by the waves can not hope to see in time.
Sometimes life hits with wave after wave while you are busy trying to dig your feet into the sand that rips away beneath your feet, only to be pummeled again by the force of the sea sending you back toward shore – feet over face, desperately grasping with hands now in the sand while the tide sucks and drags you back out to sea. Rolled and rolled, again and again, the sand, stones, and broken shells scraping your body while you struggle with all your might for a breath of air.
It’s at these times I am thankful for a lifeguard – someone to watch over me. It is at times when I have strayed from between the green flags and struck out on my own, that I appreciate someone having my back. It is at these times that I thank my God that He doesn’t grow weary of watching over me, that He isn’t confined to a green flag territory, and that regardless of what signs I’ve ignored, He will come to my aid.
Genesis 28:15 – “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Proverbs 15:3 – The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
Psalm 121:8 – The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.