Go Paddle a Canoe

It’s February now, which means I’m just about over the snow and cold, and ready to be outside. So long as I look out the window and up, it’s a perfect cloudless day. Looking down reveals snow stained by dirty cars and dogs who just couldn’t hold it any longer.

I’m ready for June, time to watch the sun set after dinner, Summer Shandy(s), and being outside. I think I’ve overcommitted my vacation days towards far too many trips to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Bottom line, I’m a bit ahead of summer, but it’s never too early to think about how I need to paddle my canoe.

My first trip up to the Boundary Waters was the summer after high school with a few eagle scouts and a buddy who probably has spent as many nights in a tent as I have in my bed. I was deemed a “2” on our scale of camping abilities, ranging from negative ten to ten. So, not a huge contributor to the success of the group, but not necessarily weighing us down either. I was just kind of there (from a skills standpoint. I’d still like to think I contributed a number of the funnier jokes to the trip). I plopped down in the middle seat of the canoe with my borrowed pack, borrowed sleeping bag, and every other piece of borrowed gear and put my back into the strokes. It’s not difficult to make a canoe move.

Even if it’s your first time in a canoe – you can figure out pretty quickly how to make that sucker move. Just put the paddle in and pull back. I was pretty good at that. I was earning my keep – maybe quickly earning my promotion to a “3” or even “4.” Day two came and so did a screeching halt to my confidence and any chance of added skills points. I took a turn at the back of the canoe. Steering. The first day I had found out it was easy to make a canoe move. That second day, I found out it was pretty darn hard to make the canoe move in the direction I had set.

Set a direction for your life and things suddenly get much more interesting. Coasting and floating through life is easy. Have no ambitions or goals, set your eyes on nothing and you will be content to float among the waves. Yet the moment you set your sights on God and living a life that honors Him, you begin to notice how easily you can drift off course, you don’t move nearly as fast as you feel like you should be, and your canoe just isn’t as flashy or good as your friends’.

The proper canoe terminology is the “J-Stroke.” It’s a paddling technique that basically means that with each paddle, you make a small directional correction by pushing out and away while also pulling the paddle backwards. The less advanced technique is the drag – the non-sexy, stop all momentum and spin the canoe around in circles until you realign with your target before you commence paddling. Then repeat in something like thirty seconds because canoes are just about nearly impossible to keep straight unless you have learned some proper technique.

It’s easy to focus on the big decisions. Which canoe you’ll take out on your adventure, what kind of paddles, and what you’ll pack. Where you’ll go to college, your major, your career and maybe who and when you’ll marry. But come to think of it, there may be less than ten major decisions we get to make in life. It shouldn’t be a surprise to realize we’re not quite on course when we don’t recognize the importance of our daily decisions – whether that is what we eat, how we treat our friends and family, or how we choose to spend our Friday nights. It’s easy to move. It’s not easy to move in the direction you’ve set. Small decisions add up to either clear progress in the direction you want to head, or more likely, if you’re anything like me, a realization that you are way off course and will need to drag to a stop and reorient, because you’re simply headed in the wrong direction.

The flashiest and lightest canoes won’t help an inexperienced canoeist. Jumping to a different canoe won’t solve all your problems. Technique and a dedication to small corrections and focused alignment of decisions will. Waves are always annoying, but never last forever, and some can simply be overcome with steady strokes. Others will be waited out. Recognizing the importance of daily decisions that align your heart to Christ’s not only help steady movement towards a fruitful life, but also set you up for those major life decisions. Rather than dragging to a stop, there’s a good chance those “big” decisions will be easier to make when all things have already been working towards alignment.

Maintaining direction can become more difficult when you add more passengers to your canoe. Your spouse, maybe children. You can move faster – but learning to orchestrate your strokes and move in a common direction will test all souls. Having one boat and one direction demands leadership and servantship, coordination, compromise and commitment. And there’s a good chance that even if you have figured out how to paddle your own canoe, jumping into one with another person will require you to drag and realign a number of times before you move fluidly in one direction. But master it and you might find incredible joy in sharing a common direction, and experience the power of coordinated stokes.

So go paddle a canoe…if your lake isn’t frozen. Come on, summer.