Today, I was all set to have a quiet, easy day at the library, browsing through the stacks, lingering in the theology section, ponderously rooting through the evangelism books. The sun was streaming through the windows at the Seattle Pacific University Library, and I’d managed to snag one of the best study tables on the top floor, flanked by windows on two sides and nobody else in sight. I’ve been anxiously anticipating my first trip to this library, ever since I realized what a wealth of Christian research material was available to me there. For days, I’ve jealously guarded today as my afternoon of solace among the dusty books. Although events have creeped up, attempting to encroach upon my sacred study time, I’d valiantly fought to preserve it, that is, until one fateful moment.
At last, I sat at my table, my stack of books around me. Which one to choose? I had barely cracked open the spine of my first choice, when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was my sister, who lives a few blocks away from the library. In light of the beautiful day, she was inspired to take a canoe out in the Lake Washington Ship Canal for a little practice before her canoeing final the next week. She needed another body to propel her boat, and she asked if I would join her.
My first reaction? “No way! I finally got my pile of books, and I’m enjoying this ray of sunlight and this peace and quiet. Find somebody else to paddle around with you.” Fortunately, I had the sense to keep this to an inner monologue. Inevitably, after something so blatantly rude and self-centered pops in my head, I’m reprimanded by another thought, this time a bit more Spirit directed: “Why are you afraid?”
“Who, me, afraid?” I didn’t see that one coming.
As it turns out, I’m afraid to let go of some of the tight control I hold over my life. I have a strong affinity for sticking to my plans. I make plans, and I love to see them through. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love my palm pilot so much. Outside of my plans, outside of my control, I have fear.
I knew that the right response was to abandon my cozy library table and take a risk. God had another plan for my afternoon: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
The boat trip was fantastic. I learned an incredible new skill and got to see a part of Seattle that I wouldn’t otherwise see. I got an up close view of the houseboat they used in Sleepless in Seattle, I got to wave to people on their yachts as they went by, and I occasionally got to splash my sister with my paddle when she wasn’t expecting it.
I did have one more opportunity to face my fears today. At the end of our long boat ride, I was overly confident about my newly acquired skills, and I attempted a quick dismount from the boat. I landed fairly successfully on the dock, albeit on my hands and knees, but just as I turned around to congratulate myself to my sister, I noticed that she wasn’t there, and neither was the boat. I’d managed to flip the boat, and my sister. Ellen was bobbing next to the dock, highly upset to be drenched in the icy lake water. Our boat was rapidly floating downstream towards the middle of the ship canal. After assisting Ellen to getting back up on the dock, I realized that somebody had to retrieve the boat, and that somebody had better be me.
Now, mind you, I’m not a bad swimmer, but I do have this thing about dirty water. The ship canal is beautiful, but its water conditions are pretty nasty. Also, it’s super cold. Did I also mention the huge ships that go through it all the time?
Once again, I was faced with the decision. I had my own plans, which certainly didn’t include swimming fully clothed in a dirty shipping canal, chasing after a boat floating downstream. Then again, why should I fear? Ok, yes, there was probably good reason to fear. However, somewhat miraculously, there were no boats in sight, so I was free and clear to retrieve our boat without worrying about being run over by Bill Gate’s yacht. Also, I once again felt that inner prompting to step outside of my comfort zone and just “jump in.”
With one look at my sister, who was now standing on the dock, staring at our boat, which was receding further from view, I dove into the water. I caught up with the boat, and realized that I hadn’t considered what I was going to do with it once I got there. With some awkward swim strokes, I managed to drag the boat across the water back to the dock. It wasn’t graceful, and it took awhile, but I did the job and arrived in one piece, albeit a bit slimy from the nasty water.
I’m reminded of someone else who had some fear issues involving a boat and some water. Peter was comfy cozy in his boat, and Jesus showed up, walking on the water. Jesus called Peter to come to him, but Peter’s fear got in the way (Matthew 14:25-32). I can understand how Peter felt. He had his own plans. He wanted to get from one side of the lake to another via boat, not via foot. He knew the approximate arrival time, and he could rely on the amount of safety that his boat typically offered. When Jesus called him out of the boat, his fear took over. He had no control, and he had to rely on Jesus for all of the control.
Today, I trusted Jesus and stepped out of the boat (and swam to retrieve it again). I have my own plans, but I’ve got to trust that God’s got plans for me that are far greater, better than I could ever imagine, but in order for me to experience them, I’ve got to relinquish my tight control of my schedule and my life. Who knows what opportunities he has for me, as long as I’m willing to set aside the palm pilot when he calls me to join him in the water.