Lessons on the River

Do you struggle with task completion, follow-through, or loss of motivation? Do you give up easily or are you a gut-it-out-to-the-end kind of person? While I tend to stick with most things tenaciously, there are definitely times where I’m the one saying, “Do I really need to watch what I eat today? Can’t I skip that walk? Surely, that dirt can wait another day before I sweep it up, right?”

I had just finished a hard push on edits with my latest WIP that had me scrambling to meet my self-imposed deadline when my husband informed me that we were going camping. At first, I was reluctant. I had so many things to get done at home. I had no time for down time.

But then, we arrived, got the tent up, the bed inflated, the bedding unrolled, and the fire lit. Our dog happily prowled the edges of firelight. Frogs croaked, crickets chirped, owls hooted, the river moved inexorably past. The setting was magical and I relaxed into it.

Our campsite – a lovely fire beside a sparkling river – the sun glowing through the trees.

Saturday morning I rose to freshly brewed coffee, a lightly crackling fire, and the gurgling river. It drew me, and I decided to test myself against its current. I set off with a bottle of water and the promise of breakfast when I returned.

I found moving upriver wasn’t so difficult if I stroked steadily and kept out of center stream. Some areas were so shallow along the banks, I was forced to fight the swifter, deeper water of the main current. Usually, this was near a bend in the river where I couldn’t see how far I would need to paddle hard before I could rest.

When I set out, I had a goal – a bridge near the small town of Monterrey – about a ten minute drive from our campsite. I wasn’t certain I could make it there given the river’s tendency to twist and turn. Have I mentioned that rivers do NOT run in straight lines? That old crow in the adage about distance “as the crow flies” would crisscross the Tippecanoe River at least half a dozen times if he flew from Monterrey to our camp the way it twists and snakes its way through the countryside.

Now, let me tell you a secret – I’m not in the best of shape. I tend to sit around tapping on my computer as much as possible. That’s not to say I never exercise, but most of that involves my legs, not my arms. Kayaking against the current requires, core, arm and back muscles. After my fourth or fifth bout with the current, I was getting tired, and I could feel the tightness gathering in my arms and back.

Looking ahead, I recognized another challenge in the narrowing of the river and the frantic swirl of the water around a downed tree set in the center of a sweeping curve. The shallows were blocked with debris — stumps, branches, accumulated sand. The only viable path forward lay amid the rushing current.

I inhaled, leaned forward, and dug in. I minute or so in, I hadn’t even made it to the tree and had no idea how far this narrow stretch extended beyond that. My stomach growled. My arms ached. I sent one last look into that unknowable curve and turned around.

Later that day, we drove into town and dropped our kayaks into the river from a public access point just down from the bridge I’d been trying to reach that morning. As we paddled under the bridge, I wondered how far it would be before I found the curve that had defeated me earlier.

The bend in the river disguised the nearness of my goal. It forced my eyes away.

Much to my chagrin, the first turn we came to seemed vaguely familiar. The farther we traveled around it, the more sure I was. This was the where I’d turned around. So close to my goal, if I’d but known, I’d have found the strength to continue.

The lesson hit me between the eyes, dead center, bull’s eye. Isn’t this how life often is? We have a goal – a calling from God. We strive toward that goal, exercising our gifts, but we tire easily because we haven’t trained extremely well for the task. We go on for a while, persevering in the face of difficulty. Overcoming obstacles, beating back doubt, naysayers, and the lack of progress.

Until one day, we’re faced with yet another roadblock, another difficult stretch. We’re tired. We’re ready for nourishment. We pick up the paddle, but it’s only with half a heart. The enemy has gotten to us. His whispers are finally breaking through. “You’re not cut out for this.” “You’ll never make it.” “Don’t you think you deserve to relax and float downstream with everyone else?”

And, what do we do? Instead of kicking him out of our boat, we look at the flow of the current, feel the weariness and hunger, long for the promised rest, and we stop paddling. Immediately, the enemy’s minions fistbump. He grins and disappears, task accomplished. We’re back in the crowd, floating the path of least resistance where ever the water takes us.

No longer striving, or using the paddle of the Holy Spirit to guide us along the sometimes difficult path God has laid out for us in the River of Life. We are no longer extraordinary, pushing against the flow, but ordinary, one of the many meandering along life’s course. Camping out on the sand bars or lolling about on the banks.

Sandbar and shallows along the Tippecanoe

This is exactly where Satan wants us, friends, out of the race. In the shallows. Staying with the crowd. One of many. Comfortable. Unremarkable. Lost. Captive.

The Good News! We don’t have to stay there. Jesus died so we can have a paddle. The Holy Spirit lives in every person who has acknowledged Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. He waits for us to listen and let him guide us, give us access to our whole hearts. When we do, we can face the swiftly moving waters without fear or condemnation. Doubt flees and motivation soars. Peace and joy overflow beyond our understanding.

Sunday morning, I rose determined to make it to the bridge. I grabbed my paddle and settled into my kayak. With a push, my husband launched me into the river. The morning was beautiful –sunny, crisp, but not cold — perfect.

I dug into the water, marveling at the ease with which my craft moved over the water. I hit the first challenge and sailed through. Then the second. Birds chirped and dipped over the water. Fish jumped. Several residents greeted me as I passed going upstream.

Monterrey Bridge

Then, I was there. I recognized this curve – the one that had beaten me yesterday. I leaned in, paddling for all I was worth. My muscles protested, already tired from yesterday’s efforts. I gritted my teeth. “Just give up,” Satan whispered in my ear. “No one will know you didn’t make it.” I paddled harder, passing the tree. Onward, moving slowly against the rush. Just a little more. I knew. I’d seen it yesterday. I could do this!

It’s amazing how much easier it is to keep going, to give that extra bit of effort when you know your destination is right around that blind corner. Just ahead past the bend. I smiled as the river relaxed and the bridge came into view. I’d done it. My paddle hadn’t let me down. Nor had my faith in the one who loves me beyond measure.

I paddled beyond the bridge, beyond the public access where we’d put in the day before. I went on upriver, marveling in the beautiful lawns and landscaping of the houses and cottages there. When I finally turned around, I took a photo of that bridge, just to prove I’d actually made it. The church bells rang, celebrating my accomplishment.

Me in the filtered summer light. Isn’t the gold ethereal?

My return trip included songs of praise and prayer to the God who never leaves us nor sets us on a path we can’t handle by relying on him and his strength.

The next time you’re tempted to quit or give up, remember, your destination, your finish line, the fulfillment of your goal, may be just around that bend, hidden from view, but closer than you think. You’ll never know if you don’t keep paddling.

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Thank you for reading. Without you, my work would be incomplete. Blessings until next time.

2 Comments

  1. Dalyn Weller says:

    Very encouraging and yes, love the gold light.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dalyn! It was lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

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