As I type this, I am being serenaded by the sounds of the ocean and the breeze flowing through the palm trees. Our family is on a beach vacation in South Carolina. I took a glorious walk on the beach this morning. The second my toes hit the sand, I was transported to my six-year-old self and my eyes started darting across the shoreline in search of the perfect seashell. Every time I considered turning back to head home, I found myself drawn to a new patch of shells just a few steps away. I was sure this next bunch would contain the one shell that survived the repeated blows of the surf and remained fully intact, waiting for me to discover it. To my dismay, each time I thought I found “the one” peaking out of the sand, I would turn it over to realize that on the other side, it was empty and broken… only a sliver of what it once was. These impartial shells were the tease that kept the hunt alive. Like pieces of a stained-glass window, these fragments of beauty were the glimmers of hope that kept me chasing shells. Maybe the next one, or the next, would be what I was looking for.
As I flipped over yet another empty shell, I contemplated how many “shells” I have chased in my own life. Shells that appeared beautiful and fulfilling at the onset, but upon closer examination, were empty and broken. The Bible reminds us, “There is a way that appears to be right but in the end, it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
When I was younger, I chased after boys thinking, if I found the right one, I would be complete and find my “happily ever after.” After I got married, I discovered that no man would be able to truly complete me.
Throughout my life, I’ve also chased approval. Approval of my parents, my peers and even people I don’t know on social media. I would say, do or post something that I thought would get the attention, affirmation or acclaim that I wanted. Unfortunately, no amount of “likes” or awards would satisfy me for more than a few moments and then I was off to the races again, chasing empty shells.
I’ve chased after the shell of significance. I wrapped my identity in my business, my job title, how good of a mom or wife I was, but somehow, I fell short every time and was left feeling insecure, unworthy and not enough.
I’ve chased the shell of perfection and thought, if I could just live up to this set of expectations, I would somehow feel fulfilled. I chased that number on the scale, the beautifully decorated home, the picture perfect family. I was left feeling exhausted, discontent and like I would never measure up.
I even chased possessions; the home, the clothes, the status. The highs that came from buying that cute outfit, hitting that financial goal or buying that dream home was short lived and always left me wanting.
All of these shells, once overturned, amounted to nothing more than empty, brokenness.
What shells have you chased in your life? How has that worked out for you?
Here is the kicker. I know better than to chase after empty shells. I am a Christian who is saved by grace. Jesus has taught me time and time again that it is only when I lay my broken, empty shells at His feet that freedom and fulfillment come. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” But, until we get to Heaven, we live in a fallen world where the enemy does whatever he can to keep us chasing shells so that we miss out on the abundant life and purpose Jesus has for us now. 1 John 2:15-17 gives us a very sobering warning. “Do not love the world or the things in this world. If anyone loves the world. The love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life, are not from the father but are from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Problem is, we believers tend to have spiritual amnesia and get distracted by the shiny, pretty shells of the world. So how do we break free of this frivolous, fruitless chase and love the Father more than the things of the world? How do we overcome this longing to chase after that next shell?
As I chased shells on the beach today, my neck got tired of staring down and I lifted my head to take a break. I realized that my search for the perfect shell had taken me away from the beauty that lay before me. If I only lifted my gaze, I would see the sun glinting and glistening off the top of the water like a multifaceted diamond, the crests of the mighty waves hitting the ocean like the fingers of a concert pianist dancing across the keys. If I only raised my eyes to take in the scope of the majesty before me, the allure of the broken shells at my feet would lose their luster.
That is the answer, sweet friends. We must look up. We must choose to see those shells for what they are: empty and broken, and we must fix our gaze on Jesus, the author and protector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). It is a choice. We must choose to look up to Him instead of down at empty shells that will never truly satisfy.
Choosing to shift our gaze, means finding tangible ways and times when we look up throughout our day. The enemy is going to be strategic in placing those shiny shells before us, so we need to be just as intentional to redirect our hearts and minds Heavenward. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).
Below, I’ve mentioned a few of the things that have helped keep my focus on Christ and put to death the deeds of the flesh like we are called to do in Romans 8:13. I would love to hear what has helped you!
- Regular Prayer: I recently set an alarm on my phone to go off 3 times a day. I figured if Daniel in the Bible benefited from praying 3 times a day, why couldn’t I! “Pray without ceasing” (Romans 8:26).
- Replacement Entertainment: Sometimes I choose to listen to a sermon or worship music instead of watching a show or scrolling through social media. I’ve also learned I can’t look at my phone before I have my Bible time in the morning or I tend to get sucked in by those empty shells! “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
- Put God’s Word on your To-Do List: I put my quiet time at the top of my to do list so that no matter what I have going on that day, God gets the first fruits of my day. I was shocked to learn that God, who created time, would miraculously stretch out my day and give me time to get everything done if I honored Him with my time first. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
- Be Thankful: Intentionally write down and bring to God reasons you are thankful… especially when you are feeling anything BUT thankful. “Give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
- Cover Your Mind in Scripture: I will occasionally make up little songs to help me remember Bible verses. It has me singing God’s Word throughout the day. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
- Take a Time Out: When I get sucked into a place where I am not experiencing the fruits of the Spirit (If I’m particularly impatient, angry, anxious or discontent) I take out my journal and work through the lies I’m believing (or the shells I’m chasing) that are causing me to spiral and I replace them with the Truth found in God’s Word. Then, I pray that Truth over my heart and life. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). (I particularly love a journal called “Pen and Pew” that guides you through this process of surrendering to the Lord step by step).
- Love Others: Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves, but I truly believe He gave us that command because He knew what is best for us (Mark 12:31). When I take the time to pour into someone else’s bucket, I find that it actually fills my own. Ask God to reveal to you who might need some encouragement and then take the time to send them a text, pray for them, bring them a meal, write them a note, etc. When we love others well, we understand God’s love for us more fully! Loving others is a great way to take our eyes off of chasing empty shells! “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
I discovered that these intentional shifts in my gaze throughout my day, started to change everything. Jesus said, “abide in me and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:4-6). The spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control began to replace my discontentment, anxious thoughts, anger, impatience and feelings of unworthiness that came when I chased after the things of the world (Galatians 5:22-23).
***I’m going to throw in a disclaimer here. Please don’t feel as if you should implement all of these all at once or perfectly! If you aren’t careful, the Spirit filled life can quickly become a legalistic one, which is just as much of an empty shell as any of them. These practices are meant to shift your focus so you can be set free, not burdened. Pick one thing from the above list that you might be able to add to your day that could help you turn your eyes to Jesus and away from the things of this world.
Also, please know, there are still days when I fail miserably, get distracted by the “shells” of the world and start chasing emptiness. Remember, there is grace for that, too. This is a journey. God’s grace that He extended to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus made it possible for us to enjoy eternal life, but also experience abundant, purpose filled life this side of eternity. Forget chasing shells! Lift your eyes, my friends, and take in the view!
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” -John 4:13-14