We’ve all been there. We know what to expect. We see the trees shading the river ahead, so we throw on a jacket. We see rocky white waters to the left, so we go to the right. We have a map and we know how long the trip will take, so we’ve made planned stops, packed meals, and carefully protected our valuables with zip-locked baggies. We are on the river of Life, and we have it under control. We’ve planned it, after all. We planned to buy a house. We planned to have a child. We planned to make a career change. We planned to move cross-country. We planned to be debt-free by New Year’s. No matter what your season, there is no doubt a plan is in place, and you can see the trees and the shade. You can see the rocks and the waves. You can see the landmark that marks your stop up ahead.

But what happens when you lose your map in the murky water? What happens when your paddle is lost, your watch stops working, you eat your food in a moment of distress and then you’re hungry?

What happens when you’re in the widest part of the river with miles and miles to go, and you’ve lost your paddle? What then?

The Unthinkable

When we make a trip, plan an event or any number of things, we usually prepare for both the planned event and the unexpected. We try to prepare for everything that can possibly go wrong, but sometimes our minds can’t even reach the possibilities.

I recently went on a camping trip with our regional Pathfinder groups. We’ve had it planned for months. It was on the calendar and all our energy so far has gone into getting the new kids oriented to this event. We tried preparing them. We tried preparing ourselves. We had everything planned (even the rain, that ended up way worse than expected).

We didn’t plan for our Pathfinder director going into the hospital the day before the Camporee and having emergency surgery (and I didn’t plan on doing the worship talks for the weekend!). We didn’t plan for one of our Pathfinder parents going to that very same hospital for complications with her ongoing illness. We didn’t plan for my husband to have to drive a carload of kids to the campsite and needing to borrow vehicles because our tire has a nail in it. I personally left for camp many hours after everyone else, planning to arrive just a few hours later. I didn’t expect a very hectic, busy morning followed by a very busy afternoon running around and getting the car I borrowed ready to drive.

These are the things I couldn’t see around the river bend, through the fog, and with my own human eyes.

I didn’t see these things coming, and after a little belly-aching, I adjusted. When all these things hit us at once, we felt attacked. We felt defeated, and we felt a little hopeless. It felt as if we shouldn’t even go, but we weren’t on the shore anymore. We were on the river, and we just needed to ride it out.

Spoiler alert: it all ended up okay. We got there in one piece, the kids had fun, the rains didn’t drown or melt us, the talks went great, we earned some honors, and we made memories. In all, success.

The River of Life

This was one weekend. It was hectic and felt like a disaster, but really, it was one moment that was hectic and disastrous–the day we left. Life is much more complicated. The seasons of planning and stress and worry in Life last longer than months, usually years. And the disasters can last just as long. When you’re in the process of purchasing a home and old debts from your twenties come up that you forgot about for the last two decades, you may feel as if you’ve lost your paddle. Or when you’re forced out of a job you loved and which seemed to define you, or when you have an unexpected pregnancy and no plan and no savings, you may feel like you’ve lost your paddle.

Some of these unexpected Life events can rock your boat for years–maybe the rest of your life.

From Helpless to Hopeful

When we are lost in the river of Life and turning circles with no paddle to direct us through the dangerous water, we can feel utterly alone. We can feel as though others are out to get us. We can feel like our life itself has no purpose or direction. It’s true the paddle is important. It propels us forward, toward our goal. What if our end is not the best place for us? The paddle allows us to take us where we think we need to go, where we plan to go, but this is not always where we need to be.

Hebrews 6:19-20 says “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

When Christ is the firm foundation for our home, and then this imperfect, hurtful world ruins our home with water, that resilient stone of our King becomes an anchor to hold us fast. When we’re lost on the river with no map and no paddle, we can drop the anchor into the murky waters and the work of it is out of our hands. The darkness of the water obscures our view. The anchor itself holds onto things we cannot see and things that may make the river floor dangerous. When we drop the anchor and our canoe slows to a stop, it doesn’t mean we aren’t making progress, it means we are safe from moving in the wrong and dangerous direction. No longer do we helplessly look ahead at the dangers we cannot avoid, but we can sit in peace.

When we’re looking desperately for a paddle, it may be the anchor that we need.