This summer I went on the trip of a lifetime. I was lucky enough to visit places I have never been before, in little corners of the country that I have only seen pictures of. One of my favorite places I was able to visit with my parents was Glacier National Park in Montana. I literally felt like I was in some fantasy novel. The mountains were towering, the trees were lush, the sky was grand, I felt as if I was walking upon ancient landscapes that were somehow very important.
One morning during our stay, my father graciously informed me that we were going white water rafting. I agreed, while I must admit, rather nervously, because I hadn’t ever done it before. I thought, ah, why not? Try something new. Be adventurous. Maybe you’ll see some awesome critters from the shoreline, in all the movies and advertisements you see it always looks exciting, and everyone is always laughing and smiling and it seems like a grand old time.
We made our way to the river in the morning. It was breathtaking to behold. The skies were a deep blue, the waters were many different shades of green and navy, apparently because of the river bottom, which was crystal clear, with the many different deposits of minerals and pastel colored rocks and dirt completely visible from above the waters. There were fish jumping, the wind was refreshing as it blew on my face, and the trees around the river were tightly packed together surrounded by the hills of Glacier towering behind them.
We entered our raft and it was myself, my father, my mother, our raft guide who was a personal friend of my father’s, and one of the guide’s friends. As we entered and took our seats, we were given very detailed instructions. When the guide shouts, FORWARD, we were to paddle as quickly as we could. If he shouted BACK, we were to paddle backwards as quickly as possible. He told us to continually face ahead, to stare at our PADDLES, NOT to look down at the waves as they came knocking against the raft, because if we did, there was a strong likelihood that we would be struck by the waves of the river and knocked overboard.
This suddenly seemed like a less charming event.
The water was FREEZING, literally, at some points in the river it was below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. We took off down the stream and it was a mixture between VERY calm waters, which meant we had to paddle the entire time, which after awhile got physically exhausting. Then the rapids came, and it was a struggle to maintain balance. I was seated in the front of the raft, the first line of defense against the crashing waves.
In the background I could hear the guide’s voice SHOUTING FORWARD! BACK! STOP! FORWARD! I did as he said, as immediately as I could. Fear clutched at me, as I saw giant rocks sticking out of the water. I knew if ALL of us didn’t do as he said, the raft would flip. In a word, it was incredibly dangerous.
That’s how far we traveled, over the expanse of several hours. I was exhausted. My arm hurt. It ached. I went from being freezing from the waves of the frigid water, to being incredibly hot during the calmer waters, as the sun beat down upon our faces. It was about 90 degrees that day, and rowing constantly isn’t easy work. I wanted to quit several times, and go back, but the raft guide kept urging us forward.
And then it came, the largest wave in a river I have ever seen before. I remember the dangerous rocks around it. I remember fear clutching my heart. I remember hearing the guide shout LEFT SIDE FORWARD! RIGHT SIDE BACKWARDS! RIGHT SIDE STOP! RIGHT SIDE PADDLE FORWARD! That was me! Right side! So I paddled, as hard as I could. But I could see the waves, they were freezing, they were towering, they were terrifying, they were coming for me.
I couldn’t stop looking at them. I paddled but it didn’t make a difference. My eyes glued to the waves before me didn’t stop them from knocking me backwards into the raft. I couldn’t paddle anymore. I couldn’t do anything. My legs were in the air, and water was over my head as it splashed into the raft. I bounced around, in any moment to be thrown into the shallow depths.
Thank God for my mother and father. They immediately came to my rescue, pushing me up, helping me back into my seat, while somehow rowing at the same time.
Somehow I survived.
As we reached the end of our treacherous journey, there were softer, quieter, more tender moments. The water became still, the raft guide urged us to swim a little bit, and to cool off, or just to stop and notice the beauty surrounding us, the trees opening up to reveal the massive Rocky Mountains in the distance.
As I sat there and took it all in, I couldn’t help but make some parallels. The raft I was in was our church. The treacherous waters beneath me, LIFE itself. The rowers within the raft, a family of believers, the rapids and the rocks, trials that we WILL face, the paddle I needed to constantly grip, the precious Bible, and the raft guide, Jesus himself, in charge of steering and shouting precious commands to keep us safe.
Simply to listen to his voice, and do as He says. After all, it really is for my own good. If I hadn’t focused on the waves, if I hadn’t tried to do my OWN thing, I wouldn’t have lost sight of what was important, I wouldn’t have lost sight of the only thing that mattered, bravely doing what Christ urged me to do, in the midst of the troubles that are so EASILY focused on.
And when I fell, my family was there. Sometimes, you have to keep helping each other. You have to keep your eyes on the word of God and listen intently for the Captain’s voice. If you watch the rapids, you will fall from the boat. The ONE time I fell I wasn’t watching the paddles but I was anticipating the rapids, something I had no control over.
Life isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be full of heartbreak and trials, tribulations, waves and jagged rocks, and freezing temperatures and frozen realities. But, He never said I would be on that raft alone. He never said I would have to navigate on my own. He has promised that I would NEVER be forsaken.
He’s behind you now, navigating. He’s telling you where to turn, how hard, what is coming your way, and how to deal with it.
All you have to do is listen.
And sometimes, because our raft Guide is gracious and loving, you’ll hit those quieter tender moments. The sun will shine on your face. The wind will blow through your hair. The beauty around you will be breathtaking. You’ll look back and see your Guide, smiling at you, knowing He loves you.
The rapids will come. The waves will be huge. The rocks deadly.
But with my Guide, I have no reason to fear. Because I know I’m never forsaken.
The raft is still moving. You’re still riding.
Are you listening?
Devin Anavitarte is one of the founders of Enspire Productions. He is currently a teacher at Burton Adventist Academy.