On kayaking and following God

Fire kayak

Photo Used With Permission From: Creative Every Day

Last week, Kevin and I went up to our friend’s lakehouse just north of the city.  It was a wonderful place to get away, and we were so grateful to have been given the opportunity for a change of scenery.  Unfortunately, Kevin was pretty sick for most of the visit and he needed me to stay close by, so neither of us got to enjoy much more than the inside of the house.

But I did manage to slip down to the dock once during one of his naps.  My friend had encouraged me to go out on the lake in one of their kayaks, which were waiting for me by the water.  I had never been kayaking before, but it didn’t look too complicated.  Put boat in water, climb in, paddle toward pretty island in the distance.

And so I did.

At first it was just lovely being in the water.  I felt like I was paddling away from all of my cares and worries.  I dipped the paddle, first on the right, then evenly on the left.  I picked up speed, cutting quickly through the water.  But as I got a little farther from the dock, the kayak started to slow.  Then it started to swerve to the right, and even though I was paddling once on the left, once on the right, the boat started to turn around.

I adjusted my paddling, trying to keep a straight course toward the little island.  Now I was paddling once on the left, twice on the right.  But then I started turning in a circle in the other direction.  I dug the paddle in harder, still trying to find a pattern of paddling that would keep me moving as cleanly as I was just moments earlier.  But the kayak refused to cooperate.  I couldn’t figure it out, should I be paddling twice on the left, then once on the right?  No, that didn’t work, let me adjust again.  Now more adjusting.  But it was never the same.

I got irritated, feeling like it didn’t make any sense why, in the middle of a calm and peaceful lake, I was getting nowhere.

In frustration, I set down my paddle and gave up.

As the kayak recovered from my furious paddling and circling, the water around me evened out and for a shred of a moment, the kayak was completely still.  Slowly, and without any movement from me, the kayak started to move.  It was only then that I realized, even though the water seemed quiet and motionless directly surrounding my boat, that there was movement in the water ahead of me.  I sat very still and focused on the water’s movement about 20 feet out and could see, almost imperceptibly, that there was a current, and it was slowly drawing me toward the cove to my right.

I sat still for a while longer, wondering how long it would take for the current to move me and my kayak that long distance, and how much speed I really would pick up while doing absolutely nothing.  I started to think about how there are so many, many times in life when we feel like we should be furiously paddling toward some arbitrarily chosen destination.  We get frustrated and angry because things don’t seem to be working out the way we think they should.  And we pray loud and hard, trying to figure out what God wants us to do and where He wants us to go.  We tell Him that we are willing to try really really hard if that’s what it takes.  We are His valiant warrior, fighting for His goals and His ways.  But somehow, we are not getting anywhere.  And it’s really stinkin’ annoying.

And then, in the moment when we just give up in exasperation, we find a place of quiet and stillness.  And in that space, we begin to feel God’s movement.  At times it feels like leading, and at other times, we are just along for the ride, simply not fighting against the current.

I floated along for some time as the kayak picked up speed and drew me into the cove.  I bumped into the shoreline and continued to sit quietly, wondering what God wanted to show me here.  Why was I here?  Both literally and figuratively, I pondered that question.  I sat, probably looking pretty silly, on the edge of someone’s lakefront property, staring at a sandy patch of shore for a good ten minutes.

I thought, “This is really dumb.  There’s nothing here.  I can’t get out of the boat and explore, it’s private property.  I’m just kind of stuck here staring at some tree roots.  What is it God?  I am willing to yield to you.  I’m totally getting this lesson you’re teaching me here in the kayak.  So, what is it you want me to see?!”

I realized how often I’ve felt this way lately.  I read so much about dying to self and yielding to God’s sovereign power in my life.  But what does that mean?  Okay, so I’ll yield, as best as I can figure out, and let go, and enjoy the ride, whatever, whatever.  It all makes for a sweet little inspirational guidebook.

But what do you actually do?

If you just stop moving and ride along where the current takes you, you end up sitting, beached on the shoreline, staring at tree trunks.

Or you end up sitting in bed watching another episode of television.

Or you end up staring at the dishes filling up your sink thinking, “I don’t feel like doing the dishes.  God, do you want me to do the dishes?  Where are you leading me?”

Frankly, I feel like the letting go just leads me into a place where I feel stuck.

In a funk.

And you know how I feel about feeling funky.  It’s not fun.

So, keep in mind, that as I’m pondering all of this, I’ve been sitting in a beached kayak, at the edge of someone else’s property, slowly bobbing up and down, staring at tree trunks.  I saw some movement flick above me and looked up to notice someone peering down from the edge of their screened in porch.

Oops, I’d better get going.

So, I shoved my kayak off and started carefully paddling my way out of the cove and heading toward the little island, my first destination.  As I paddled, I unconsciously started to look and feel for the current.  I anticipated the slight breeze and which way it would push the kayak, and watched the water ahead of me, more carefully adjusting my paddling to be in sync with its movement.

And finally, I started to glide.  I picked up a little speed, but as soon as I focused on my own paddling and not the water in front of me, I lost my sync and had to slow down and re-adjust.  In that moment, I feel like I got it.  Yes, there are times when we must simply let go and rest quietly in his presence.  And I am so grateful that we can peacefully sit and let God carry us along.

But I don’t think He wants us to check out either.  Prayer is a two way street.  It’s talking to Him AND listening.  It’s asking AND receiving.  I believe that it was good for me to simply put my paddle down and sit quietly, resting in His leading.  But I also believe that God gives me desires to follow and pursue.  BUT, and this is the big thing, I must pursue them whilst keeping my eyes on His leading.  I must listen for His voice, look for His presence.  It’s not difficult, but it requires discipline.  Luckily, grace abounds, and we constantly have new opportunities to join Christ in journeying, listening, paddling, participating.

I reached the island.

And it was perfect.

4 thoughts on “On kayaking and following God

  1. P.S. I very much appreciate the “archives” – I often wondered how I would
    be able to recapture some of my favorite “blogs” and now I can.

  2. Hey- schoolmate of kevins from highschool. Have been praying for you guys and checking on your blog. I loved what you had to say- I’m in korea currently and doing a lot of that ‘death to self’ and the struggle involved, the tension of all that your talking about- what i found at the end of this place, even in the giving and taking is that God emptied me, not to just leave me in that bleak place of death after surrendering, like you say there’s something after that- but to reform me about what I think and know about love- for Him, for myself, and for others. And how revolutionary Jesus really is- and how powerful love and the act of just being and loving and living really is for Him, because of Him… and all the rest. Anyway, in your weakness, and in your doing nothing moments, you exude a powerful love of Him who made you- it’s pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Praying for you,
    schumacher… 🙂

    • Thank you for that encouragement Karen. It is such a hard thing to wrap one’s mind around, all this dying to self stuff. And when I feel completely poured out, like after a really good cry, you know? Well then that’s when God is able to completely fill me up with HIM. But it feels like crap to get to that place!

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