It’s 5AM on the Black Warrior River. For just a moment, as the world around us is still asleep, everything is calm and quiet.
As soon as practice begins, the aesthetic changes. Every person on the river, coaches, rowers, and coxswains zone into the boat and what needs to be accomplished that day. As a coxswain, I’m watching my rowers making sure their techniques are correct and catches are in synch. I feel the motion of the boat to determine if we’re balanced on the water. I judge the space between the puddles created by the oars as they come out of the water and I’m constantly listening for the coach’s instruction to make sure I know what is coming next. I shout out to my rowers telling them who, what and where changes need to be made and guide them through practice with encouragement. All of this watching, guiding, listening, steering and correcting happening simultaneously as the vessel speeds its course through the water.
If you’re unfamiliar with rowing, the coxswain guides the rowers who are facing backwards unaware of and unable to see their true direction. Coxswains have many jobs, as outlined above, but the most important thing is the fact that they are the eyes of the rowers. It is their job to let the rowers know where they are, how much longer they have to row, and who or what is around them. It is their job to ask for more pressure on starboard (or right) so that the boat will avoid the log ahead. There’s a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the usually small-in-stature person guiding the boat. And as important as their job is, it is equally as important that the rowers trust their coxswain and do their job as well.
The coxswain does as much as he/she can so that the rowers can focus on putting their all into the power and movement of the boat.
Spoiler: the boat performs best if every single person in the boat is moving at the same time, in the same way. Every. Single. Movement. Thinking and acting as one.
Here’s the catch… It doesn’t take much to throw off the momentum and balance of the boat. If a rower decides to turn their head to check around them, or if the coxswain makes an incorrect decision or forgets to steer the boat, there’s a pretty big negative impact on the entire boat and possibly race. Depending on the boat you’re in, you could flip. It can take a while for everyone to shake it off and get back on track. If each member in the boat doesn’t fully trust one another or doesn’t do their job, there will not be success. However, once the relationship between each member is built, the possibilities are endless.
There’s a giant log coming ahead? No problem. The waters are getting rough and making the boat rocky and harder to balance? No problem. It’s the last 500 meters of a race, you’re one boat away from first place, but you need some extra speed to pass it? I guarantee that if that boat doesn’t get first, it gets pretty close.
Now that you have the background, here’s my thought for today: God is our coxswain, we are his rowers.
Take a moment to reflect on all of that. The coxswain guides, protects, mentors. The rowers focus on their technique and put their strength into moving the boat towards the finish line. When they work together, the boat appears to be moving swiftly with ease to their destination.
From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:16
It can be rather difficult to be one of God’s rowers. To follow His guidance, listen to His critiques, and fully trust that He knows the best route. We often feel that urge to turn our heads and take over; thinking that we know better than Him, but forgetting that this is what throws the motion of the boat off course. As hard as it might be, we need to practice giving the reins over and let Him be in control of our path. We need to practice being here to serve and follow the path he is laying out for us instead of pursuing our own course.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
It can be especially hard to do this when the conditions around you begin to worsen. Waves have the ability to damage, flip, or even flood a boat. The conditions will occasionally worsen when you are already on the water and you are a decent distance from the dock. This can also happen throughout your row with God. Some days are still and calm while others are so choppy you just need to pray to get through. These waves in your life could be loss of loved ones, financial instability, an unexpected health crisis, natural disaster, etc. The list can go on and on. Don’t be afraid. Don’t stop. Keep going. You have to keep rowing through these moments and keep pushing through to get to the finish line because just stopping won’t do anything but fill your boat up with water. When these days occur, refocus and remember who is guiding you to the finish line. Remember that if you fully trust Him, focus on your role serving Him, and follow the guidance and instruction of His word, the possibilities will be endless.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Don’t flip your boat now. Trust the Lord to guide you in your way and just keep on rowing.
Emily Oulton was born and raised in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, PA. With a love of travel and new adventures, this northern girl decided to attend school down south. Now four years later, Emily finds herself starting her professional career in an Alabama town. Passionate about community outreach, Emily uses her marketing and events experience to volunteer with Craving God Ministries and other organizations in the area. She keeps Esther 4:14 “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created” close to her heart knowing that every day God has a plan specifically for each one of us to make a difference in the world.