A few years ago our church staff went on a retreat to a lake house in the Catskills of New York. One afternoon our student ministries pastor, Matt, and I had the bright idea to paddle out to the middle of the lake in a canoe, in the forty-degree water, to fish. As we left the dock, another staff member laughed, “You’re going to flip that thing.”
We laughed and said, “No way.”
Twenty minutes later we stopped paddling and let the canoe come to a rest in the middle of the lake. Then, as Matt turned around to face me, the canoe quickly moved to the right. I overcompensated by leaning to the left, and within seconds we were both underwater.
The first thing I heard was Matt coming up from under the water and gasping for air. We treaded water for a moment, assessed the situation, and knew we were in trouble. We tried to flip the canoe over but it was full of water. I said, “Matt, we’ve got to swim for it.” So we grabbed our floatable seat cushions, which were of little help, and took off. As we swam, I wondered at one point if we’d make it—the water was freezing and choppy, the shore seemed too far away, and no other boats were near us to help. I remember praying, “Jesus, don’t let us die in this lake.” Finally, after praying and swimming for what seemed to be an eternity, we reached the shore. We struggled to stand up, hugged each other, and thanked God for sparing our lives.
Whenever I think back to that day in the water, I feel a twinge of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, but I’ve come to realize that this feeling is not necessarily a bad thing. That memory, along with dozens like it, serves a purpose in my life—to remind me that there are no guarantees. I don’t walk this earth with a document signed by God in my back pocket, promising me a certain number of days on this earth. Each moment is a precious gift. Sometimes we forget this and race through life under the assumption that we or the ones we love will be sitting at the dinner table when we get home, which may not be the case.
The Bible says in James 4:14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” If this is the case, then we ought to be thankful for the trials God sends us. Hardship shakes us out of our routines. It makes us stop and reflect. Pain reminds us of our mortality, causing us to become more deliberate about the way we spend our time here on earth. As Thomas à Kempis said in his spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, “It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time, for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart. It reminds him that he is an exile here.”
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