I had a lesson in perseverance over our recent three weeks on Maui. It had to do with paddle boarding. You’ve probably seen paddle boarders gliding over the waves, standing with confidence on oversized surf boards that seem impervious to tipping over. I’ve been watching them for several years and finally had the time and opportunity to give it a try. How hard could it be? You stand up on the board, take the long paddle in hand, and head out.
As it turned out, learning to paddle board on one’s own with no instruction is not that easy. The boards do tip, a lot. Getting comfortable just kneeling takes some practice. Standing is another matter altogether, especially if you are of an age where popping up into a standing position in one fluid motion is an unlikely event. A little move this way or that, and it’s in the water you go. My wife and I worked on it for an hour or so most afternoons until we finally got it down, providing days of slapstick entertainment for the folks on the beach in the meantime. The next problem was figuring out what to do with the paddle. It’s big, and digging down into the water changes one’s center of gravity and everything. Moreover, Maui’s waters are not smooth. They have this stuff called surf, and even small surf provides challenges, especially traversing the waves. A few lessons with a good coach would have been the right thing to do.
We will be back in a few months to take up where we left off, getting more confident with each outing, proving once more that old age is no excuse for not learning new things. Maybe this time we will take a lesson.
I wonder if becoming a Christian isn’t a lot like that. It looks so easy from the outside, and word on the street is that all you have to do is love Jesus. After that it’s all smooth sailing, or paddling as the case may be.
That’s not how it works. It takes practice to learn to stand as a Christian. Trying to do it without instruction from a good coach is not a good idea, although it can be done. In any case, on one’s knees is a good place to begin. It will take a lot of falls to get from there to standing, so it’s a good idea to stay in shallow water. Makes it easier to climb back up. Don’t try to go too deep too fast. But standing is not the end. Now you have to go somewhere, and that’s going to take work, yet more learning involving more spills along the way. It would all be so much nicer if paddling on the calm waters of baptism was smooth going, but that’s not what happens in the real world. There are waves, and currents pushing where you don’t want to go.
An accomplished Christian makes it look so easy, but it takes perseverance, time, and a lot of spills to get there. If we, as leaders, have two weaknesses, I suspect they are these: first, we are too quick to let folks sit on the beach and watch without getting in the water; second, once they’re in the water, we are too willing to let them learn what they can, how they can, on their own with no teaching or coaching. That’s not good preparation for the waters that will roar and foam about them, the deep waters that can sweep over them.
We can do better.