It was the summer of my 8th grade year. I had braces, short brown hair, and prevalent freckles. I was also on my way to a quaint town in West Virginia with my youth group. The van ride seemed to take forever, and the lack of air conditioning in the June heat didn’t make sitting on pale blue leather seats any more comfortable. To remind myself of why I was on this trip seemed like the only way to survive the van ride. Well, that and gazing out the window at watching the landscapes change from state to state.
We arrived at our destination, a breath taking place. A little town nestled quietly in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It really was in the middle of nowhere. I loved the covered bridges, the smell of the pine trees, the gravel roads, how lushly green everything was, and the rain at night. Our accommodations were at a local high school, each team got assigned two classrooms- one for the guys, one for the girls. We made our ‘beds’ on the cold tile floor and then proceeded to mingle in the cafeteria with the other youth groups that were here.
Our mission that week: to lead VBS/puppets, and to do some painting in a woman’s home. The whole experience was so eye-opening. I made new friends, learned much more about my Savior and myself than I ever thought possible, and developed a crush on a guy named Gary. But what I really want to talk about is what occurred on our free day.
Each youth group had an opportunity to choose an activity they could do on their “fun day”. I don’t recall all of the options, but do remember that all of them sounded good, except for the one my group chose: White Water Rafting.
Now, back when I was in 5th grade, I had a friend of mine drown in a canal. I actually remember playing in my grandma’s backyard, which is about 3 blocks away from the canal, and hearing the sirens and the medic-helicopter. At the time I did not know what was going on, but in school the following Monday I pieced together the sirens and the news of the loss of my friend. It impacted me greatly. I loved swimming and would swim pretty much anywhere, but that was no longer the case. Whether the decision to abstain from swimming in anything but pools was conscious or not I don’t recall, but I do know that ever since then, I have had a fear of swimming in anything that didn’t contain chlorine. Therefore, this whole white water rafting didn’t sit well with me. What was I supposed to do if I fell in?
The bus ride to the drop in spot by the river, was ten times more agonizing than the sticky-leather-seat-ridiculously-hot-van-ride down here. I’m pale, on the verge of puking, and starting to get bitter about this whole activity. Fun day my rear…what were these people thinking?!?! Why would you want to go down a river with sharp rocks in an inflatable raft? There seems to be some common sense missing. Already in a bad mood, hearing that the river was at flood stage sent me over the edge. Were they trying to kill us?! Right then and there I decided that I was not going to enjoy this, not one bit.
We got in the raft, and our guide told us all the comforting information that most guides do: “This particular river has under currents, so if you fall out, it will suck you down to the bottom and then push you back to the top. It will seem like forever, but it’s really only a few seconds.” “Upon coming to the surface, if you hit your head on the bottom of the raft, just wait and either the river will pull you back down and push you back up again or you will float out from under the raft.” “Go ahead and jump in the water in this calm spot so we can practice pulling people back in.” Did I hear him right? Did he just recommend that we jump in the water?! This guy is bonkers! When grass turns purple is when you’re going to see me jump in this river.
We approach the first rapid, and if you know anything about white water rafting, you generally sit perched on the edge of the raft to make steering/rowing easier and more effective. Well, I was pretty much sitting in the raft. I was petrified, but only let my fear come across as sheer disgust. We made our way down the river, and with each new set of rapids a fervent prayer would raise to heaven: “Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus! Don’t you dare let me fall in this river! Don’t you dare!!!” We only had one person fall in the river from our raft. I made it out alive, and without falling in.
But this I learned: Fear robs you of joy.
Whatever my fear was- drowning, deep water, etc; illegitimate or not, it prevented me from enjoying myself; from getting the true experience of white water rafting. It caused me to be bitter, angry, stressed, and insecure. I probably could have had an enjoyable time had I embraced trust towards my guide and his knowledge of the river. He had been down this river, countless times, and knew what we needed to do to stay safe. He knew where to steer the raft to avoid dangerous rocks, which way to position the raft to go through certain rapids, and most importantly- he knew how to rescue those who fell out.
Had I thought about my guide like this when I was fearful, had I reminded myself of his attributes, had I reminded myself of who he was- my trip down that river would have been vastly different.
Don’t let fear steal what is meant for joy.