Lessons from White Water Rafting

Spending a week in Deep Creek, MD with the family and some friends was ridiculously refreshing. Amidst the spontaneous naps, coding practices, and obsessive reading, I was able to fit in some white water rafting. It was a blast, we had the best guide, and it gave opportunity for many lessons. 

Choose a Trustworthy Guide

We were one of the two boats that had opted for a guide, and we were so thankful for Harris. She was kind, hilarious, knowledgeable, and put us all at ease. Each boat had to choose one captain, but our decision was easy! I overheard other boats wanting to change their guides, guides feeling inadequate and not knowing what to do, and just general unrest. But with Harris, there was never a doubt nor a fear. 

Jesus is the obvious captain, isn’t He? He’s lived the life, gone through the hardships, secured our salvation and all the grace we’ll ever need. Without Him though…what’s a person to do? We can make someone else the captain, enslaving ourselves to their imperfect ideas and standards, trapped in the tumultuous waters of their opinions and moods. We can switch from person to person, only switching types of problems. We can even make ourselves the captains, but our faulty characters, misplaced priorities, and eventual mistakes will get us stuck or underwater. 

Jesus…Jesus is the trustworthy Guide. He can take you through the whitest of rapids, but it’s only fun because you know you’re safe. The adventure is adventurous, not terrifying, because Jesus is a trustworthy Guide. 

Choose a Guide Who Knows What’s Coming 

About every 5-10 minutes, Harris would give us an update about what lay ahead. These next rapids are going to be the most intense, but the shortest, so just make sure to keep paddling and lean in when I say so. We’re going to head straight for that rock and bounce off so that we can go through this part backwards. There’s a mandatory get-down coming up, so give me two strong strokes and get down right after. I’ll tell you when to get up. There’s a stretch of swimming water up ahead, so feel free to jump out and relax.  

There was never a reason to be nervous: we know what’s coming and our guide can handle it. Any nerves came from excitement, anticipation of enjoying what was right around the bend. If I somehow made a mistake and fell out of the raft? No problem–I was in the rescue boat! I’d be back in in no time.  

As much as we’d like to predict and control (maybe I’m just referring to myself?), we really have no idea what’s coming. Ever. Oh, but our Lord Jesus does. Yes, in the end-of-the-world way, but even in the next-Tuesday-afternoon way. Whatever we’re dreading or holding close lest we lose it, Jesus knows what’s coming. And when we let Him, He’ll prepare us for it, day by day, moment by moment, and right when we need each step. Just like Harris, Jesus doesn’t tell us everything at the beginning. But He always tells us what we need when we need it. 

Work at the Pace of Grace

It only took about ten minutes to notice a glaring difference between us and the other boats: we rowed about 1/10th the amount of everyone else. When I first realized this, I just thought Harris was taking us at the scenic pace. Nope–we still beat the other boats getting to and from pretty much anywhere. She’d call for two strong strokes, then “take a break.” Somehow, every time, our raft effortlessly glided past 8-man-teams of frantic rowing. How? Harris knew what she was doing

Other teams went in circles, got side-tracked, or over-compensated for zigs and zags. I’d see our raft drifting in the direction of a looming rock; Harris only called for two strokes, and I would wonder with amazement when we cleared it with plenty of space every time

I am certainly of the (incorrect) persuasion that working harder is what’s always needed, especially in the Christian walk. We have a world to save, right? While that’s true, I’ve found my life both more fulfilling and more effective when I walk in the purpose given by Jesus, not by my own planning and ideas. There’s a whole lot to do in this world, but Jesus has a purpose for each of us to fulfill. The pace that He sets is constant, persevering, but without an ounce of frantic or overwork. It’s a pace of grace; glorious, restful, purposeful grace. 

Work Together

When Harris called for strokes, we all responded in sync (and if we didn’t, we adjusted to do so :). Some of us were rowing as hard as we could, others rowed at about the 70% intensity she requested, but all of us were focused on the same goal. It made it easier that we were all following the same guide, that we all trusted her, and that we all wanted the same things: to have a great time and stay safe. 

Working together in life is a whole lot easier when we are going in the same direction, following the same loving Guide. I think this is why it’s easier for us to get along with likeminded people, but especially those who are heavenly-minded and in love with Jesus. I think if we focused less on what I do better than you and you do better than me and instead focus on listening to the Guide…we’d probably go forward a lot faster and with less effort. 

One more shorter one: because we had Harris, we were the rescue boat the took care of those that fell from their own rafts. When we’re with Jesus, we are much more able to help those around us in every way.

What a wonderful and trustworthy Guide, our God.