For the past few years, my lead pastor and I have gotten away for a few days in the Fall to do long-term planning. We’ve been blessed to have families within our church who have second homes at the beach that have afforded us the opportunity to disconnect from life for a few days to plan out the sermon series for the entire year.
Two years ago, we were able to get away to the Outer Banks and this past Fall we went to Norfolk on the coast of Virginia. It’s amazing how well you can think and how clear your head can be when you intentionally set aside time. We had a productive few days and although it was work, we felt recharged when the time away was over. Sure, there was some emotional and mental exhaustion from what we accomplished, but the sense of accomplishment and the relief of knowing that things were planned out was fantastic.
While most of the time was spent around a table with Bibles and a whiteboard, we tried to find some intentional time to do something fun. Being as we were on the Chesapeake Bay, we decided that if we finished at a certain time, we would go out in the two person kayak. We had been told by the owner of the place where we stayed that a few miles down the coast was a neat little restaurant where we could stop in for lunch. With our destination in mind, we set out, a little later in the morning than we had intended.
We had also been told that the best time for kayaking on the Bay was earlier when the water was smooth and calm, resembling a pane of glass rather than a body of water. I don’t think either of us had been out on a kayak before, at least not a two person kayak. While we get along well together, the true test of any friendship or relationship is a new situation experienced together for the first time.
After dragging the bulky kayak to the beach, we readied ourselves for the journey. While the waters couldn’t be accurately described as “rough,” they weren’t exactly calm and smooth either. We both got into our seats and settled in for the long journey.
I really can’t imagine what we looked like to any innocent bystanders observing us from the shoreline. I wonder if someone thought there was something wrong with us as we just weren’t moving well. We tried to get into a rhythm of rowing but it didn’t seem to matter. We worked harder and harder, rowing with all of our might, but the shoreline just didn’t pass as fast as we had thought that it would.
Now, we had observed some dolphins in the mornings that we had been there but we didn’t think that we would see them again, especially while we were actually out in the Bay. While we were struggling to move forward and after a time or two of capsizing, we seemed to find some kind of rhythm, although no one would have been recruiting us for a rowing or kayaking team.
As we made our way through the water, we heard a sound behind us and as we turned to look, we saw a school of dolphin coming up alongside us. As we inched forward through the water, they move ever closer to us until they were seemingly right on top of us and around us. To be honest, it was a bit unnerving. I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world and while dolphins are playful and not harmful animals, it still made my heart beat faster and faster.
Behind me, my lead pastor was giggling like a schoolgirl. The excitement within him was palpable and I couldn’t help but laugh as well at hearing his excitement. It was all a little surreal, paddling a kayak through the Chesapeake Bay with a school of dolphin swimming all around you. It took our mind off the fact that we were going nowhere fast.
After what felt like forever trying to get to our destination, we finally decided that this was going to take way too long and the end result may just have been exhaustion rather than something more rewarding. We turned the kayak around and started making our way back towards the place where we were staying. There was disappointment in us both as we weren’t able to accomplish what we had set out to accomplish, but the reality of the situation had settled upon the both of us like a storm on the mountains, and like that storm, the reality wasn’t subsiding.
As we got sight of the house in the distance, our paddling became more furious. We edged up to the shore and got off the kayak. As we did, I looked down at the back of the kayak to see the rudder there, laying sideways and clearly doing no good for us. I looked at my lead pastor and said, “Were you using the rudder at all?” He gave me a quizzical look, something that I’ve grown accustomed to, and said, “No.”
At that moment, we both looked at each other again and started to laugh in realization of what had just happened. We had been on a rudderless journey. While we were struggling and fighting to get through the water, our rudder sat there limp and useless because it wasn’t pointed in the right direction. Instead of helping us move through the water, it had been hindering our progression. Two former-engineers-turned-pastors didn’t have the sense between the two of us to have realized the importance of the rudder to help us on our journey.
It seemed like a metaphor for life. How often do we set off on our journey with sights set for the destination without checking to make sure that not only are we headed in the direction but we’ve got everything necessary to get there. Maybe we rush into the journey without a plan. Maybe we don’t have the directions and think we can do without them. Maybe we’ve failed to listen to some wisdom or advice that someone has given us.
Regardless of how we find ourselves in the situation, I think many of us can be on a journey through the water without a rudder. We’re fighting and pushing ahead but if we had just checked one thing, our journey would have been so much smoother.
We both learned a valuable lesson that day, and we won’t soon find ourselves duplicating our mistake. I can look back on the moment and laugh but it’s also a helpful reminder for me to think about what I need before I head out on a journey, even something small that’s forgotten could make way for a much more significant problem.