The above quote has been pinned to the bulletin board above my desk since November 2000 when a former supervisor sent it as encouragement and as his image of me. At that time I was moving from a secure job in business to a doctoral program in literature. Not necessarily the safest move. I did not see the lands in front of me clearly, specifically the job possibilities that would come from this journey. I just jumped in and pushed off from the shore of a 9 to 5 job and I haven’t returned there yet.
However, was I really leaving the shore? Sometimes I think that this is not a true picture of me. Throughout my years I have clung to safe moorings of family, home, and jobs. I may leave one thing, but hold onto the others. Even though I left the one job, I had a secure place to live and a supportive family. Yet, without remaining on at least one familiar shore, I don’t think I would have left at all.
So, losing sight of our shores will look different for different individuals. Still, whatever they look like, they are departures that allow us to open our eyes to new possibilities in life. As I left that job, I found new interests in pilgrimage and literature and eventually integrated them with the Christian faith in my current role in campus ministry – a new land I never saw coming in 2000.
Moreover, sometimes the shores we leave are not always ones we choose. As the reality of my mother’s impending death flooded over me last year, I felt unmoored. Pushed into the ocean with only a small rowboat for safety. I would no longer have the sure comfort of her encouragement and her love greeting me every day. There would be nothing to hold to as I left other shores. It still feels like that at times. But I’m also seeing new lands:
- supportive friends,
- blessings of remembered stories,
- grace of God’s presence in suffering,
- gift of creating a new home,
- freedom to leave other shores.
In these reflections I think of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, and others who left familiar places, shores of their lives. Sometimes they knew where they were going, but many times they didn’t, or at least didn’t know what it would be like when they arrived. Yet, they kept moored to a faith in God. In the process of leaving one place they grew in that faith which allowed them to arrive at those new lands with a receptive spirit and a stronger trust in God.
I still don’t know if I fully embody Gide’s quote, but now I can even leave that concern behind. In the coming months, I pray for the courage to leave certain shores from which God is calling me. Not in a reckless abandon, but in a faithful walk expecting to see new lands and secure in the One who is showing them to me. I also look forward to talking with others who are losing sight of their shores so we can walk (or row) together in this time.