by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” — Mother Teresa

November, 2005

This year, for the first time, I was able to attend our church’s annual fall retreat at Blue Mountain Methodist Camp. In previous years, I was unable to go because of work or other commitments. So I was looking forward to the experience. At one point, it turned out to be frustrating and a bit worrisome. I’m sure everyone who wasn’t there has heard the story by now, so now it’s my turn to tell my side.

We arrived late Friday night and, Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, I was ready to make the most of my time at Blue Mountain. In the process, I did something else for the first time: I went out on the lake in a canoe.

I was never a Boy Scout and, although I love the woods, the only times I’ve been “camping” have been in my or a friend’s back yard when I was a boy. As a result, even though I had been in boats on various occasions, I had never been in a canoe. I ended up in the same canoe with Kerry, who is blind, of course, and Rhonda’s young daughter, Tara. For all practical purposes, I was “in charge.” And I can’t even swim!

Everything went fine for a while. We enjoyed the warm sunshine, the cool breeze, and the gentle motion of the canoe. But after a while, I realized the canoe was going in big circles. When I paddled on the left side of the canoe, it went left; when I paddled on the right side of the canoe, it went left; and when I paddled on alternate sides, it still went left. I have a strong suspicion that, if I had somehow been able to get out and push, the cursed canoe would still have gone left!

The only wind was a gentle breeze and there are no strong currents in a small, man-made lake such as that one so I couldn’t imagine why the canoe was going in circles. It may well have been my lack of experience or it may have been something totally beyond my control. People on the shore and in other canoes were yelling helpful advice and encouragement, usually in the form of “Go right!” or “Go straight!” If only I could have! But I was also growing concerned: It would have been bad enough if I had been in the canoe by myself but I also felt responsible for Kerry and Tara and for getting them safely back to shore.

Finally, Tony, Rhonda, and Rhonda’s son, Eric, came out in another canoe and rescued us. I hooked my paddle to the back of their canoe and they towed us back to shore. I was glad to be on dry land where I could laugh at the experience along with everyone else but at the time it was no laughing matter. I didn’t risk going out in a canoe again that weekend although I did ride a nice, safe, steerable paddle boat with Tara and Eric.

Jesus’ disciples were in a predicament one night on the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21). Their situation was much more serious than mine: I had nice weather and I could see the shore. They were three miles or more from shore (John 6:19), they had strong winds and rough waves that were making things difficult, it was late at night, and they were straining against the oars (Mark 6:48). In the midst of all this, Jesus came toward the boat, walking toward them on the water. At first, the disciples were afraid. But after Jesus let them know who he was and came aboard the boat, they soon reached the opposite shore (John 6:20-21).

There are people all around us who are adrift, tossed by life’s waves and winds, helpless to resist the current. Their lives are going in circles, out of control. They may be “. . . tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there . . .” (Eph. 4:14b NIV). They need to reach solid spiritual ground. We can help them. We can lead them to shore. We can show them the way. We can tell them about the one who walked on the water and calmed the storm, the one who can certainly help handle whatever comes their way.

“A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:16-21 NIV.)

Copyright © 2005 by David Phelps