Life and Church Lessons from White Water Rafting

In my office is a photograph of my family on vacation a few years ago. It is an action shot of three generations of our bunch white water rafting together. My wife and I, two young adult kids, and my in-laws all having the time of our lives shooting some rapids––if you believe this single snapshot in time.

Now don’t get me wrong, rafting is tons of fun. That is, if you define fun as getting soaked with ice cold water, paddling your arms off and finding yourself tossed out of the raft in the midst of class IV rapids. And, remember, I paid a lot of money for us all to do this!

But seriously, being with my family on a beautiful day, on a gorgeous river, successfully living through it and sharing the Gospel with an unsuspecting college student/river guide made it all worthwhile and something I have done again since. Plus, there are important lessons to be learned from being in a raft together going down a river. Lessons that might just apply to life and the church. Here are a few I was thinking about:

First, you have to listen to your guide. They are experts at rafting and have done this a thousand or more times. They will give you instructions before you ever begin and tell you exactly what to do while on the river. You must pay attention to them or you will not be safe. If you cannot listen, rafting (or life) will be a very difficult event.

Second, you have to paddle as a team when you on the river. Your guide will yell out orders and tell you when to paddle right or left and how often. If teamwork is not part of who you are in a raft, going down the rapids sideways, becomes your new definition of “fun.” I wonder how many churches I have known I could use that phrase to describe?

Third, sometimes you have to paddle forward and sometimes you need to back paddle to maintain control. Pace and direction are everything when it comes to navigating the rapids. Some want to just hit full bore all the time and others simply want to float along. Neither works well. There is a wise balance that makes rafting (or life) successful.

Fourth, when someone falls overboard, everyone has a job to do to get them back to safety. Some are reaching directly out with their paddles to pull them back in while others have to maintain control of the raft. I speak from fairly scary experience that this coordination is vital. I wish the church responded with such effort when they see someone “falling out.”

Fifth, it is better every now and then to pull to the bank in a calm place to catch your breath and maybe take a swim. After an especially strenuous time on the river, everyone will need a break every now and then. It is helpful to find the calm and quiet and jump in to be refreshed and reenergized for the next set of rapids.

Sixth, when you have just successfully navigated an especially rough patch of river, take time to celebrate and slap your paddles together. This paddle “high five” is a tradition on the river. Take time to celebrate and enjoy the wins. Find the joy in the midst of the journey.

Seventh, always wear a life vest. You never know when things could get rough around the bend. You might find yourself thrown every now and then. It is good to have the promise and assurance of hope that no matter how deep the water, we have help to stay afloat.

Lessons from the river, who would have ever known? I believe I will go find another paddle to slap!


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