My heart thumped in my chest as the current in the river picked up speed and the water roiled about me. I knew that I was approaching one of the largest rapids I had ever navigated as the river began to funnel itself into a narrow chute ahead. I had spent the previous day paddling the upper section of this river, experiencing some success and many swims! I had spent most of the night dreaming about this rapid, aptly named Tablesaw, and well…maybe it was more like having nightmares. So, as I approached Tablesaw, I was definitely questioning whether or not I would survive upright.
As the river narrowed and the horizon line dropped away in front of me, I found myself staring at a long, turbulent drop with waves crashing into the chute from both sides. I could see a few of my buddies ahead, bobbing up and down over the waves in their descent. And, right at the bottom of the rapid, were two large eddies awaiting anyone who might survive. As I entered the chute, I took a deep breath, threw up a quick prayer, and my mind suddenly cleared.
Keep your hips loose and keep breathing, Leah, and you will be fine.
I bobbed down the rapid, fixing my eyes on the eddy below, and within a few seconds found myself gliding into the eddy, looking back up at the rapid I had just descended. My heart leapt in celebration as I realized that I had successfully navigated the one rapid I had fixated on and feared would overcome me.
I find it interesting how often we can find ourselves facing what feel like overwhelming odds, producing a great deal of anxiety and fear. We can spend hours fussing and fretting over what we should do or shouldn’t do, re-playing scenarios in our heads with every solution under the sun.
How easy it is to fix our eyes on the difficulty or trouble ahead and forget all of the truth, training, and transformation we have experienced to even get to this point!
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
This is truth straight from God. It is reliable and trustworthy. When we take a step back from fixating on the problems that lie in our path and talk to God, we really do have access to His peace. This peace enables us to take a deep breath and remember that He really is in control.
We need help, though, allowing God to bring peace to our hearts and minds. In many ways, peace is a cognitive choice we must make to surrender our efforts at understanding and to allow God to astound us with His solutions, which are often simple and miraculous. When I made the cognitive choice on the river to stop fixating on the rapid and to take a deep breath, focusing my mind instead on Christ, my mind cleared, and I was able to remember my training and respond from the place of truth, rather than fear.
It is important to note that I did not end up on this river by accident. No, I came here on purpose to face these big rapids. You see, I have undergone training. Over the years, I have learned to skillfully paddle a canoe in whitewater, spending time practicing the maneuvers and paddle strokes, learning to shift my hips and gaining awareness of my surroundings in the midst of the rapids.
I would not have attempted to paddle this rapid on this river without that training. Training is what enabled me in the moment to remember to breathe, keep my hips loose, and to fix my eyes on where I needed to go. Suddenly, I was no longer out of control; I was confident and able to draw on the muscle memory I had been practicing over the years.
We also do not face trials in life on accident; they are to be expected if we have chosen to pursue Christ wholeheartedly. As we grow in Christ, learning by experience that He is trustworthy… soaking in His Word, we are able to draw on His truth as we face challenges on the journey. Some would call this spiritual muscle memory. When Jesus was tempted by the devil during his excursion in the wilderness, He drew upon the spiritual muscle memory of God’s Word, which dwelt in His heart.
Just as I drew upon the muscle memory of years of practice in paddling, we can draw upon the muscle memory of God’s faithfulness and truth as we face the “rapids” we encounter in life. This kind of spiritual muscle memory is what enables us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2).
When we find ourselves swimming in the turbulent waters, rather than riding the waves, it can be easy to forget who we truly are. This is why it is so important to remember the transforming work God has already done in our lives. Having taken a few swims, the day before, it was easy for me to question whether or not I was truly up for the challenge that lay ahead.
Likewise, when we find ourselves in the mire of our anxiety or get tripped up by our pride or other sin, Satan loves to tell us that nothing has changed at all. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), working hard to erase the transformation that has occurred in our lives. In these moments, returning to the truth and training that got us to this point is absolutely vital, remembering that “we did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15, 17). We can truly celebrate victory as we claim the truth of our identity in Christ!
When we face trials, as promised in James 1:2, we can rely on the truth, training, and transformation God has used to equip us for the battle.
“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).
- Take some time to reflect on a recent trial you have been through or one you are facing.
- What are some truths from Scripture you can lean on to fix your mind and heart on God?
- What training, through experience, study, etc, do you have to draw upon as spiritual muscle memory?
- What is true about your transforming journey and your identity as a Christ-follower?
Photo by Thanti-Nguyen from UnSplash