vocation...time to put your toes in the water
Monday, May 20, 2013 at 3:24PM
Terry-Michael Newell

On many occasions, I reflect with folks about the issue of calling or vocation and I continue to look for ways to understand this myself.  A new metaphor emerged from a wonderful and helpful book. Calling is to “step into the flow of the river.”

As a youth minister in past years, I took a group to the New River in West Virginia to go whitewater rafting. It was on that trip that I had one of the scariest experiences of my life. 

We expected to see mostly class 2 and 3 rapids, but because of huge amounts of rain, this portion of the river was experiencing class 5 rapids meaning they were more intense and more difficult to maneuver. As we approached each rapid, our guide gave us the necessary instructions on how to paddle, which side of the river we were to go on, and in case of an emergency, how to get out of trouble should we fall into the raging waters. Approaching a rapid named the Middle Keeney, our guide gave us the normal rundown and I remember him saying something that didn’t mean much until later. He said, “If you come out of the raft in this rapid, you will need to swim Olympic style to the eastern bank. There’s a huge hole on the left that you don’t want to have anything to do with.”

We hit the rapid and flipped over. Everyone was ejected from the raft including the guide. Having gone underwater just briefly, I surfaced only to see that I was moving very quickly to the forewarned place on the west side of the river. Likewise, one of my youth was moving in the same direction just ahead of me. I remember the waters forcing me in circular motion and after a few rotations, I began being pulled downward. The water was brown, then black. I was so far down I couldn’t see the sunlight and I thought life was over for me. But, the drain-like hole that was sucking me down spit me right back to the surface. If you believe that the creation of the life-preserver was a miracle, then this was a miracle. God acted on my behalf.

As soon as I could, I swam to the western bank and got out of the river. I could not see any of our group, boats, or guides. I was alone and out of the river. An emotional basket case, I hiked up the mountain to a set of railroad tracks. Crying. Praying. Cursing. Doubting. I wasn’t sure if I’d survived while someone else didn’t. I was afraid and although I’d come back to see the daylight, it felt dark outside. It felt dark inside too.

Once I saw some familiar looking rafts, I slid down the rocks and mud to the river and found our entire group safe and looking for me in the water. I flagged them over and when they reached the large rock I was sitting on the guide put out his hand to help me back in the boat. I asked him, “How far is it to hike from here?” “A long way,” he replied. I asked, “Is there any other way besides getting back in that boat?” “Realistically? No,” he said. I had to get back into the boat, back into raging, deep waters, and face my fears in order to continue the journey.

There are time in my life when I have felt much the same way I did once I reached the shore after our raft capsized and stepped out of the water. I have been hiking here and there, wandering and wondering about life, ministry, and vocation. Crying. Praying. Cursing. Doubting. And, now I consider again this new image of calling, stepping into the flow of the river. I can see the movement of the water, but I can’t measure its depth. I can see ahead for just a short distance, but I don’t know where the river goes.

To quote myself in conversations with others about life and vocation, “the life of faith is a life of taking risks.” Maybe it’s time to listen to the Guide saying, “It’s a long way to get where we’re going. Realistically? You can hike your own way if you want. Or, you can step into the flow of the river and I will be your Way, Truth, and Life.”

Article originally appeared on Terry-Michael Newell (http://www.terrymichaelnewell.com/).
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