I stood on the beach and watched the waves crash, enjoying the sound and the breeze. I’d just finished the first stretch of a hike with my family, and between the heat and the humidity, it was a relief to feel the waves on my toes.
Looking down the beach, I saw a wave hit the beach and pull back. As the water pulled back, it revealed a monk seal eagerly scooting across the sand away from the water.
Everyone on the beach immediately moved closer, but not so close they’d scare it. Cameras were out, but the monk seal didn’t seem to notice that it had become an instant celebrity. It kept scooting forward, wanting to be out of the reach of the waves.
Once the seal decided it was far enough from the water, it stopped moving forward, squirmed a bit to get comfortable, and attempted to go comatose. For a few minutes, it lay there with no reaction to anything around it.
Then the waves rushed up around it again.
Annoyed, the seal moved forward again until it was sure the waves couldn’t reach it and settled in again.
And the waves soaked the seal again.
Really bothered now, the monk seal scooted forward furiously and plowed its head right into the sand. Nothing was going to keep it from its naptime. And this time, the seal really had gone far enough that the waves couldn’t reach it.
This is pretty natural behavior for monk seals. Monk seals, as the name suggests, generally live alone. They hunt in the ocean, gorge themselves on food, then swim to shore and have fantastic food-coma naps until they’re ready to swim and eat again.
So finding a monk seal on a beach isn’t all that unusual.
Thinking back on it, I’m fascinated by how determined this particular monk seal was to have his nap. No matter what tourists were around him, no matter how much the water called to him to come back in, he blatantly ignored it all.
And honestly, I think we sometimes do the same thing to God.
The Ocean and Spiritual Impressions
A monk seal is an ocean mammal. Much like a whale, it can spend a lot of time in and under the water. But it eventually comes up for air.
As humans, we try to stay deep in the gospel and our faith as best we can. But ultimately, we aren’t perfect. So, at some point, we sin or make mistakes and find ourselves a bit more distant from our beliefs than we once were.
Getting in and staying in 100% is the goal, but we have a hard time with it. Which is fine. President Nelson has told us:
Be patient with yourself. Perfection comes not in this life but in the next life. Don’t demand things that are unreasonable, but demand of yourself improvement.President Russell M. Nelson, “Men’s Hearts Shall Fail Them”
So if you’re progressing, even slowly, it’s okay to find yourself coming out of the “ocean” of the gospel from time to time, so long as you work to progress deeper in the gospel again.
But what if you find yourself on the beach, like the monk seal? Maybe, like the monk seal, the beach is where you want to be. Maybe you ended up on the beach and you aren’t sure how you got there.
If that’s where you’ve ended up, realize this: the ocean still touches the beach. When the monk seal was on the beach, the waves still touched it.
If the ocean is the gospel, we could consider the waves the Holy Spirit. He reaches out to touch our hearts, helping us to see that we can still come back, that the ocean isn’t far away.
To anyone who feels beached, don’t lose hope. Our Father in Heaven is reaching out to you, inviting you back to Him. You just have to accept the invitation and swim back in. He’ll lead you where you need to go.
The Monk Seal and Us
The monk seal, however, didn’t turn around and return to the ocean quickly. Instead, it distanced itself more and more, over and over, from the ocean until it was out of reach of the waves.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear from God. Maybe it’s that we don’t agree with certain teachings of the gospel. Maybe we know we’re doing wrong but aren’t ready to admit it. We might even be afraid to listen to God because then we have to face Him. Or maybe you’re angry with Him.
There could be so many reasons we might want to go to the beach and stay there. But the further we go up the beach, away from the water, the harder it is for the waves to reach us.
That doesn’t mean that the waves aren’t still coming in, or that the Spirit isn’t trying to reach us. It’s that we’re choosing not to listen.
In fact, we might even bury our faces into the sand to make sure God can’t reach us.
Of course, God can reach us no matter how far we go. But if we refuse Him and His invitations, God will give us space until we turn to Him. That doesn’t mean He’s far away. It means He’s right there, just waiting for us to let Him in. And when we do, we’re back at the waves in no time.
I don’t want to assume anyone’s situation. Again, there are many reasons why people resist God, and sometimes we just need time to clear our heads and turn around.
But there’s a difference between needing time to heal and refusing to heal.
Active Searchers or Active Sleepers
I think many of us have had times of sitting on the beach. But I also think that many of us sit there only until we realize there’s no reason for us to remain there. We’ve recovered; we’re ready to move forward again.
And I’m sure that’s what the monk seal did too. After sleeping off the food coma, the seal would have cheerfully scooted its way back into the ocean.
Some people don’t do that.
They remain on the beach, hating the ocean, and never giving in to the invitations that reach out to them unendingly.
If a person refuses to change, I don’t know that there’s much any of us can say to help them change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Consider these questions from Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer?Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration?” 2014
People on the beach will still have to account for these questions someday. God can’t be avoided forever.
And that experience will be a lot more unpleasant if we’re still sitting on the beach at the Judgment Day. We might find ourselves burying our heads in shame instead of defiance at that point.
This kind of judgment day isn’t pleasant to think about. But it doesn’t have to happen this way.
We can turn around and see the invitations God is offering us. We can test spiritual impressions and experience the peace and relief that comes when we accept the invitations of God.
We can return to the ocean of the gospel at any time. Our Savior Jesus Christ has given us that option through His Infinite Atonement. We only need to turn to Him to see that.
That doesn’t mean the return trip will be easy. But it is possible. We can choose to actively search for a way back to our Father in Heaven, or we can actively sleep on the beach to ignore Him. But we have to know that we’ll face the consequences of our choices either way.