A couple weeks ago my brother, Larry, was knocked down by a sneaker wave. The beach by the Bandon lighthouse was wrapped in a golden/gray haze as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. Larry had wandered past the piles of driftwood onto the sand. The curling waves were far off, but the storms had scoured and flattened the beach, so the waves rolled way up the beach.
Larry, who is six years older than I, tends to wander off. This is just Larry, not senility. From up the beach, I watched Larry as he stood looking at his phone, taking a picture of the surf. Over the white noise of the ocean, he could not hear me yell as a small wave, maybe only six inches deep, raced quickly and silently toward him. To my relief, Larry finally started moving backward from the wave. Suddenly, however, I couldn’t see his white hair over the driftwood.
Turned out, he had tripped over a rock behind him. He was soaked but fine. His phone, which had floated about twenty feet toward the ocean, was ruined but had video of the sky and him walking up to it on the beach. Even small waves can lift, spin, and fling huge logs around, so Larry was fortunate the wave was spent by the time it reached the driftwood behind him.
Sneaker waves are most common in the winter but can come at any time. They are not tsunamis, and the causes are not fully understood. They may be the random result of small waves combining with other small waves. I have hiked beaches most of my life and have learned to note where wet sand ends and the dry begins. But a sneaker wave can gobble up the dry sand clear into the dunes and driftwood. They are like any other wave, but they keep coming—silently out of the blue.
Last week I was hit by a sneaker wave of joy. It came out of nowhere. On Wednesday night Teckla and I had gone to a “Blue Christmas” service at our church. It was sweet and refreshing. It gave Teckla and I time to grieve, to meditate on Scripture, and to light a candle for the losses in our lives. On Thursday, Teckla and I tackled the big job of dismantling the old piano upstairs. It was heavy and needed to be hauled off piece by piece. It was noisily satisfying—especially pushing a big piece out the front door and down the cement stairs. The chords and discord were delightful.
But neither of these events, though pleasant, were the source of the quiet joy that flooded my soul on Thursday. The joy did not come in a moment of escape, distraction, or fantasy. Our struggles with are unavoidable. Yesterday, Ari asked to visit “Daddy’s stone”, so we took him to where Peter, Stanley, and Mom and Dad are buried. In short, the causes of our grief surround us. Yet, a sneaker wave of joy washed over my heart.
I would like to credit my vibrant prayer life for this joy—but my prayers are desperate and weak. I did not “pray through” to joy. In fact, my prayer on Thursday was, “God, whether you like it or not, I am yours. I am not going anywhere.” Not exactly mountain-moving prayer. And this inspiring prayer of consecration was more the result of joy—not the cause of it.
Nor did my joy flow from surprisingly good circumstances. On Thursday I came home from the men’s Bible study only to discover rain had poured under the door of the back porch and the roof was leaking into the bathroom. Teckla threw towels on the back porch, and I climbed out on the roof with wet-patch.
It seems I will be unable to monetize my joy, or even get a good sermon. I will not be writing “Five Steps to Find Joy in Trauma.” The joy did, however, over-flow some when I got gas on Friday. Out of the blue, I asked Rodney at the gas station if I could pray for Jesus to heal his back pain. I am seldom so bold. I don’t know yet if Jesus did. Nonetheless, my speaking seminars on joy will have to wait.
Even worse, I do not know how to repeat the experience—taste once again the bracing tang and sweetness of the joy. What can’t be repeated can’t be repackaged or tucked away for a rainy day. There is no app for joy.
I am content with my sneaker wave of joy. It smelled and tasted like eternity. This joy, though quiet and small, was remarkably powerful—untouched by anything on earth yet touching all things.
Sneaker waves come to those who walk along the edge of land and sea. All I can do is be grateful and walk on the edge of my faith. Until swept away.