II Corinthians 3:18
“And all of us, with unveiled faces, reflecting like bright mirrors the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same likeness, from one degree of radiant holiness to another, even as derived from the Lord the Spirit.”
On Labor Day, I went to Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. A few days before, Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida and traveled north. By the time the storm reached North Carolina, it had decreased to a post-tropical cyclone, but the impact it had on the coast days after the storm had left was impressive.
The surf at the Outer Banks was the most intense I had ever seen. Toward the horizon, large waves crashed into the sea, and closer to the shore, waves rolled in one after the other, folding in on themselves long before they reached the shore. Other waves emerged after these and pummeled the sand.
I walked along the shore for a mile or two. From time to time, a gentle wave stretched its fingers as far as it could reach, expressing a quiet greeting. But more often, several waves attacked the shore at the same time. Combined, they threatened to knock me over even though I was at the edge of the surf.
As I walked along the shore, watched the waves, and looked for shells, I thought about what the consistent power of the ocean accomplished. The sea churned up large shells and tossed them onto the shore. I picked up many of these shells; whole ones were uncommon. More often, I found chunks of shells that were probably broken by powerful waves like these. I tossed these shells back into the Atlantic. For some reason, they didn’t seem ready for me to take home. They had ragged edges and an abrasive look about them.
Instead, I kept the shells that reminded me of Chiclets gum because they were so polished that they had a distinct shine. I knew they had a story to tell about their time in the ocean. They had started out as a part of a much larger shell, and when whatever creature that lived in the shell died, the ocean or a predator broke the shell apart. After an unknown amount of time spent being tossed around by hurricanes, tropical storms, and the incessant pressure of the tide, I found the shells tucked in the sand, admired them for the smooth, colorful pieces they had become, and took them home with me.
The smoothing process for seashells reminds me of the sanctification process in the Christian life. We all have rough edges that need to be smoothed. Some rough edges may be a short temper, worry, using explicit, four-letter words, gossip, or lack of submission to authority. In order to smooth out these edges, we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Many times, the Holy Spirit’s work occurs through trials. Day in and day out, we are refined. Sometimes, we are aware that our roughest edges are being aggressively smoothed, much like the shells that were tossed at Cape Hatteras. During times like these, we may cry out in frustration because the pressure is too intense. Perhaps waves even carried you to the coast, and you crawled to the shore only to be tossed back into the sea because the refining process was incomplete.
In times like these, we must faithfully endure the process until the day arrives when we are mature and complete (James 1:2-4) like the polished shells I took home from the Outer Banks. Each shell was perfect in its own right, and the smoothed edges conveyed a history about each shell’s time in the ocean that I would never know.
When we withstand the winds and the waves, and make it to the end of a storm, we will have a story of how we were once rough and ragged, but through endurance and yielding to the Holy Spirit, we now have a polished character that radiates a new degree of holiness (2 Corinthians 3:18).