Back in the Boat

Several years ago I attempted to learn to water ski. Some friends had the cabin and the connections – an awesome lady who was a professional water skier and a ski instructor. The plan came together with ease and I said yes – eager to try something to new.

Struggling to skiBut there was a big part of me that was afraid. I wanted to learn to ski but water skiing involves water apparently. I’m not a fan of water since a rafting trip went terribly wrong in 1997. I was on a youth mission trip to Wyoming and we were rafting the Snake River near Jackson Hole. My raft of youth and adults hit some the most intense rapids at the same time a gust of wind blew – flipping our boat and flinging us all into the water. Despite what I knew about using my hands to guide myself to the edge of the raft, the rapids moved the boat continuously, preventing me from getting a handle and from surfacing. When I thought I had absolutely no choice but to inhale water, I popped up in an air pocket created between the upside down raft seats. Gasping for air in that tiny space, I got my bearings. Thankfully, we all made it out fine. The only things that remain with me to this day are the memories, claustrophobia, and a fear of water. Seriously – even typing this causes a physical, anxious reaction.

Occasionally, I get the nerve to try and regain confidence in the water. This water skiing trip was one of those attempts. We boated out to a quiet cove area where the only sounds were the boat motor and my rapidly beating heart. I watched as my friends plunged into the water, strapped long, slender boards to their feet, grabbed a plastic triangle and then gave a “thumbs up” to the driver. Off we went and a few moments later, my friends stood up on the water with the elegance and grace of a Victorian lady. It was sickening and inspiring.

My turn came and everyone was handling me with kid gloves. So, I put on my bravest, most confident face because I hate looking weak. But there was not one ounce of confidence in me as anxiety flooded my heart and mind and my confidence sank to the bottom of the lake. As I assumed the position that I had seen modeled and explained, I gave a shaky thumbs up. As the boat soared away and I saw the rope straightening out in front of me, my panic rose. The tug met my arms and I knew that I simply needed to let the boat do the work and make sure I was in the right position to respond. But about half way up, the water would start spraying my face and I would panic, let go and sit back down in the water. Over and over. I could never get over the hurdle of fear. I could never trust the boat to do it’s job. I was never able to enjoy the thrill of flying on water.

God wants to take us on a ride – an amazing ride that is a transformed life powered by His grace and His Spirit. God instructs us on the right posture to take and He waits for us to give a thumbs up. Then, God takes it from there. God is the one who makes transformation happen; we just need to be ready to respond and allow God to pull us up and forward. But I catch myself giving a timid thumbs up and then, when things start to happen and water starts to spray my face, fear sets in and I let go, sinking back down to the safety of the water. I can hear God cut the motor and we both bob for awhile; God being patient with me, compassionate with me. God doesn’t give up or leave me in His wake. He waits. He prods. He asks, “Ready to try again?”

We insist on carrying around so much baggage and we try to hold onto all of it and get up at the same time. We can’t. The baggage weighs us down which is why God insists that we let it sink to the ocean floor. It causes us to fear, to give up and to let go of the rope connecting us to God. Instead, we need to let go of the fears so we can fly. We need to assume a posture of readiness, grabbing the bar with both hands and trusting God to pull us up and help us really live.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Psalm 37:3-6

Back in the boat. A few years ago I found myself back in a raft, going down the Clear Creek river near Golden, Colorado. I had taken my youth group to Denver for a mission trip and this was the fun day option for the majority of youth. I knew there was no way I could stay on land and send them down the river without me.

Some of our crew rafting on the Clear Creek.

I’ll be honest. Part of my thinking was the captain must go down with the ship. Morbid thought, I know, but if something was going to happen, I could never live with myself if I was on the shore or on the bus in a fetal position sucking my thumb. The reality was I knew although there are always risks, this was a safe, beginner CREEK and odds were very slim that anything serious would happen. So, I got in the boat …. the boat with the only adult male sponsor who was a certified EMT, lifeguard, and had enough muscles to haul me back in if I fell. I needed the extra confidence boost and Mark’s presence in my raft provided it. I won’t lie. It was a tough trip. Only one minor panic attack along the long route was a win in my book. But I did it. I got back in the boat, lived to tell about it, and made some amazing memories.

I learned something really valuable about trust on that 90 minute ride down Clear Creek. Trust had a name. It’s name was Gabe.

Gabe was blond, bronzed, full of charm and our guide. He wasn’t just any guide. He was the head guide for all our rafts. I understood that to mean he was like the quarterback on a football team or William Wallace in Braveheart. If Gabe wore a kilt to raft in, not only would no one make fun of him, they’d all be wearing kilts by lunchtime and REI would be selling rafting kilts a day later. He was confident, in charge and he was guiding my boat.

And I trusted him. If he yelled, FORWARD ONE, I rowed FORWARD ONE.  If he yelled, LEFT BACK TWO, I sat there. Because when I held up my hands and made the little “L” sign with my left hand, it reminded me I was sitting on the right side. That meant I sat there whenever Gabe yelled “LEFT”.  I trusted Gabe from the beginning but my trust grew exponentially as he maneuvered us through tight channels and around imposing boulders. Even when it looked like we weren’t going to make it or that Gabe should have yelled FORWARD THREE instead of FORWARD ONE, I trusted him. And he was right.

As I was floating down the creek, I thought about how I was trusting Braveheart Gabe more than I trust God. 

I question God a lot. He’ll yell FORWARD ONE and I’ll row BACK TWO. God will tell me to stop paddling and let Him steer us along the current and I’ll stick my big ‘ol oar in anyway and get us off course. Now we are going downstream backwards until I admit I don’t know what I’m doing and let God straighten us out again.

Gabe was there in the flesh. It was a 90 minute ride on an inflatable. Even with the possibility of death accompanied with tremendous fear from a bad past experience, it was easier for me to trust this stranger who didn’t know me from Adam for a short period of time than it is for me to trust a God who has been faithful for generation after generation. A God who was here in the flesh. A God who has experienced the certainty of death and has defeated it. A God who calls me His beloved.

Yet, I struggle to trust Him. 

For someone who struggles to trust others, I’ll gladly admit that it felt great to relinquish control to Gabe. It was refreshing not to feel like I had to be in charge or to know what to do. I listened. I obeyed. I enjoyed the ride. I think one of the biggest motivations that I had for letting go was that I knew how very little I knew about rafting. Gabe was the expert. I was not. Gabe knew this creek. Every rock. Every current. All I could see was what was right in front of me. And it was only for 90 minutes. Not a lifetime.

I tend to forget that God knows more than me. That might be a good place to start in trusting Him more. Maybe picturing Him in Chacos will help too.

Is it hard for you to trust God? If not, please let the rest of the class know your secret. For the other 99% that are honest, how do you practice trusting God? What encourages you to follow His lead rather than take the lead?

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One thought on “Back in the Boat

  1. I remember that first trip so well and God’s answer to frantic mothers’ prayers. My daughter was hanging onto the raft and her non-swimming boyfriend. We could not see you or the girl you were supporting under the raft, but her mom was in my raft. Our strong male parent had hit his head on a rock and was being pulled to shore by a kayaker. God uses us in ways we never expect. Sometimes trusting is all you have, and thankfully it is all you need.