What the Stranded Pilot Whales Can Teach Us About Moving on

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(Photo: Lynne Sladky, AP)

(Officials monitor pilot whales stranded off the coast of Florida’s Everglades National Park, Dec. 4, 2013. Photo: Lynne Sladky, AP)

As I write, dozens of stranded short-finned pilot whales are circling anxiously in the shallows of Florida’s coastline, just off the Everglades. More than ten of the original 50 have died so far.

Those of us who watch the news reports share a worried fellowship with scientists who say they have no explanation for such things. But one thing the scientists do know: once some die, the others often refuse to leave. The reason, as reported by CNN, is that they are family.

I think this story resonates with so many not only because we love these giants but because, just maybe, we recognize this story.

Many of us can relate to hand-wringing over difficult choices within our relationships, when we wrestled with where commitment ends and self-preservation begins. When is it worth staying close, for the fruit that comes only through devotion? And when is it time to recognize that sometimes our loved ones, in their own distress, have led the herd to the shallows, where no fruit will ever come?

Perhaps this story speaks to us because in each of our lives we will face a time when we head for land, tired of swimming, and hope we won’t have to be alone. And there will also be a time when we must mourn the ones we love or the dreams we had with them, and leave them in the hands of a God who loves them even more than we do.

There is a time to stay, a time to be present no matter the cost. And there is an equally pressing time to leave, of knowing that moving on doesn’t mean pushing away. In these moments, the pain of separation comes no matter how pure the heart, but that doesn’t mean it is not right.

The question is this, especially when we are not sure if we are in the shallows or it’s simply just low tide: Is our decision to stay or go a faithless way of claiming control, or is it a moment of trusting in the wisdom of God. We are speaking of the God who created both the seasons that change and a Kingdom that never will.

I believe that when we pray about these things, we ought to listen not for how to move them, but how to move ourselves—whether that is closer to them or farther away is the answer He provides. The only thing we are called to do, without fail, is to ask Him and to let our decision be based on love—for  God, ourselves, and others.

I will never know how to fully thank my loved ones who have met me in the shallows.

And I will never underestimate the power of a loved one who dares to swim to the bluest waters, while still remembering to look back and call for me.


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

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