Two summers ago, during my family’s vacation to southern Montana, my nephew took us on a rafting excursion in the Yellowstone River. Nothing escaped the reflection of the deep blue water that day—not the peaks of the Gallatin Mountains to our left or the Absarokas to our right. Not the rocky river banks filled with scrubby junipers and pines, or the wide fields of pinegrass, wheatgrass, and fescue.
The air temperature was in the upper 70s, but the water hovered around the 60-degree mark. Too cold for me, I thought, determined to remain in the boat. But not the children. At the first opportunity, they jumped in with their lifejackets on and floated along behind the raft, kicking and splashing their way upriver.
Dozens of ospreys, kestrels, and hawks swooped and swarmed just above us, begging for attention. But I kept a watchful eye on the children, looking for signs that they might suffer hypothermia or be pulled under by the current. Eventually, when their glee persuaded me neither were real threats, I jumped in myself, hoping my older body would adapt to the frigid water as the kids’ had.
All was going well until I heard my brother calling to beware the rapids ahead. At first I thought we could climb back into the safety of the raft, but it rushed quickly ahead of us. The last thing I heard my brother say was, “Whatever you do, stay to the left.”
The kids were behind me and couldn’t hear the warning. I panicked. Would they be pummeled against the rocks or pulled underwater? I attempted to stand up against the current, but the water kept pushing me down. The more I tried to resist, the harder I struggled.
I called out, “Hold on to each other!”
All was going well until I heard my brother calling to beware the rapids ahead.
Finally, I saw them lock arms and float to the left, out of danger. While the adrenaline pulsed through my body, they were all laughing and squealing, having realized much more quickly than I that the best way to ride the rapids was to just surrender. I’ve thought a lot about that ride lately as I’ve felt the current of life grow stronger and faster. Being a wife, stepmom, and small business owner keeps me hopping. Recently my mom moved into an independent living facility just two minutes from my house. While it was our plan for me to be available to help her with errands, appointments, and chores, that’s meant more churn in my life’s rapids.
Help me do this, I pray, clinging to passages like Psalm 46:1 that describe God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” But it’s not just the raging waters out there I need to be rescued from. My own heart is churning, too.
For months—maybe even years—I’ve sensed that the pace of my life has become a threat to my family’s and my own well-being. But while I’ve felt powerless to stand up against the circumstances of my life, it’s the current of God’s purposes for me that have knocked me down again and again. Like Abraham, reluctantly leading his only son Isaac to the altar, I wonder, Is there anything God won’t ask of us? Like Paul, recruited to God’s side with the blood of the saints still on his hands: Is there anyone who can resist His will? (See Rom. 9:19.) Perhaps Solomon said it best: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).
Like Abraham, reluctantly leading his only son Isaac to the altar, I wonder, Is there anything God won’t ask of us?
For me, God’s purposes come down to two simple words from Psalm 46:10: “Cease striving.” It’s as though God is saying, You can’t do it all, so stop trying. Given the many responsibilities before me, my work feels like the only reasonable place to cut back, but I have not surrendered it without a fight. I’ve asked for a lesser sacrifice, because to cut back now is to risk my career and my reputation. In fact, like my experience in the Yellowstone River, giving in to this plan feels like a ticket to drowning.
But God is in the water. He is the current that moves me along. If I resist, the struggle will get harder. But if I surrender, I’ll experience the peace only God can offer. As the psalmist says, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:4-5).
This summer my youngest nephew from Montana came to visit. We went to an aquatic center filled with water slides, fountains, and pools. We spent most of our day at the lazy river, riding large rubber tubes around a 523-foot course.
At the end of the day, I noticed the skin on the bottom of my feet was rubbed raw. It took only a few seconds to realize why: Even in the controlled environment of the lazy river, I was still trying to hold back, to stand against the current. I’ve learned a lot about surrender this past year, but I’ve still got a long way to go. Hopefully, I won’t have to shoot too many more of life’s rapids before I finally learn to enjoy the ride.
Illustration by Noémie Cédille