“When the water first hits you,” our river guide said, “your instinct is to stop paddling with the shock. But you have to keep going for us to get through.” He stood on a rock on the water’s edge, pointing to first this set of rapids and then that, describing the various hazards we’d face when we boarded our raft and attempted to navigate this next quarter-mile stretch of river. He had a plan, which he was trying to communicate to us before we got back in the boat and carried it out.
The first third of the three-mile rafting trip had been a breeze, as guide and rafters got to know each other a bit before braving the rapids together. As the raft drifted lazily along we practiced forward paddling and back paddling in unison at our leader’s command. We learned that the boat would turn when one side paddled in one direction and the other side did the reverse. When our guide yelled, “Stop!” we all rested our paddles in our laps, enjoying the beautiful scenery on either bank as the raft moved along. We gazed at an osprey nest high in the trees and looked for other wildlife on the shore before the next command brought our paddles into the water once more.
The first set of rapids had been just a little thrilling as the boat rushed through them, lifting us off the sides of the raft on which we were perched. We locked our feet more securely in the bottom of the boat and laughed a little nervously as we anticipated the more difficult water ahead.
Just before we reached the foaming white water, our guide had us put the boat to the shore. We all clambered out and followed him to the point on the shore that overlooked the raging water we were soon to pass through. It was in this stretch of more arduous going that it would be so important for us to listen to his directions and follow them explicitly. Failure to do so could cause the raft to flip and the lot of us to be tossed into the chilly water. The Deschutes River we were navigating flows through land of volcanic origin, and the stones through which the river passes are rough to the touch and very hard on exposed skin. It was definitely in our best interests to stay aboard and navigate the raft successfully through this stretch of the river’s rage.
We gripped our paddles tightly as we began our run through the rocks. The first wall of water drenched us and we gasped in surprise, only to hear our guide in the back of the boat yell, “Paddle hard!” as the raft tilted and bounced as it rushed downstream in the furious water. Lost completely in the angry white foam, we concentrated on following the directions of this leader we couldn’t see but who shouted his instructions to us from the back of the boat. We paddled furiously and then cheered in exhilaration when we emerged dripping wet but deliriously happy into the slower water once more, boat and all occupants miraculously intact. Two smaller sets of rapids added excitement to the rest of the trip, but for the most part we simply relaxed, played water games, or watched the antics of the rafters in the other boats in our group.
Twenty-four hours after the experience the two-word command “Paddle hard!” still echoes in my ears. I realize how important it was that we kept our oars moving in the water at our leader’s command, despite the waterlogged chaos surrounding us. So often in life we don’t do that. We let the shock of the circumstances crashing around us stop us cold. Then we find ourselves in even greater hardship, perhaps losing our grasp on the situation and tossed into trouble from which we find it impossible to emerge unscathed. The only way to successfully navigate through our difficulties is to listen and follow the instructions of the One Who sits in the boat with us and yet knows what we do not, and to paddle hard… doing what He tells us to do without question until He tells us to stop or to do something different. It’s then that we’ll emerge victorious to the smoother sailing on the other side.
God allows us to celebrate our victories, but only for a time, reminding us to regroup and refocus for the bigger battles that are surely just around the bend.
“…fear not, but let your hands be strong.”
(Zechariah 8:13 KJV)
(Zechariah 8:13 KJV)