Straining at the Oars

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of kayaking or canoeing, you know how even on the most placid of lakes, after a while, your arms get tired from rowing. And if you’re on rougher waters, fighting against the current brings exhaustion much faster—and progress much slower.

This past summer my husband and I were kayaking when it started to rain. It wasn’t much of a rain, but we pulled off and waited till it stopped. Not a big deal. I would not, however, be a fan of trying to row my way in the middle of a dark storm. Nope. I’m already fearful of being that close to deep, dark water—throw in a storm, and I’m toast. (Just ask my husband how much I love the movie Perfect Storm. Not only does it hammer at a phobia of mine, but I am very frustrated that a “true” story is built around guys who didn’t live to tell the story that is being told. But I digress.)


stormy sky_2


At times, isn’t life just like rowing in a storm? Aren’t there moments or days or even entire chapters that feel like you’re trying to row your way through a tumultuous storm? I know it’s true for me.

Fighting against the wind and current, I try to go in the direction I think best only to struggle and make little progress. It reminds me of the story of Jesus walking on water. His disciples were in a storm and straining at the oars, and when Jesus appeared, they didn’t even recognize him. They panicked. He had to reassure them and climb into the boat—and then the winds died down.


calm waters


Go figure. Even the guys who hung out with Jesus on a daily basis didn’t always understand his power. I love that there are so many stories in the Bible of the disciples being knuckleheads—it helps me relate.

Life is a bit stormy for me right now, but I feel like I am at a point where I am ready to put my oars up and await direction. As I write this just now I decided to look to see if there is an actual term for putting oars up while rowing, and I learned that “once the rower extracts the oar from the water, the recovery phase begins, setting up the rower’s body for the next stroke.” So…oars up and the recovery phase begins. I like that. I like that a lot.

I’m ready for my recovery phase.


water lily


But how will I hear my coxswain? (I can’t help it—I love looking up stuff like this!) Because after recovery, I need to be ready to take my next stroke. If I’m striving to stop fighting the wind and no longer strain at the oars, I need to be still and listen.

I love this passage from 1 Kings 19 where Elijah is to go and listen for God:  The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. It was God’s gentle whisper that spoke to Elijah—not the obvious and fierce wind or earthquake—but a soft whisper.

And so I am listening for God’s whisper—I wish it was easier to hear, but perhaps it is this way because in order to hear it, I need to shut out all the other noise and focus on him. And maybe he won’t bring calm waters at all, but he will help me navigate the storm. After all, there will always be storms. Calm waters come, but they also go. Knowing how to row through the storm is critical in navigating life. I’ve got to listen to my Coxswain!


stormy sky


Even though I am at a point where I’ve concluded one chapter of straining at the oars and am now ready to listen for my next right stroke, I know the temptation to row my boat my way and strain at the oars will be an ongoing battle for me. I know there will be times that I will exhaust myself and make no progress because I think I have the answer. But I also know that I have a Coxswain who is in my boat waiting to help, forever patient even when this knuckleheaded rower fights the wind with all her might.


All photos are my own.
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7 thoughts on “Straining at the Oars

  1. I think this may be one of my favorites that you’ve written. As a fellow knucklehead, I’ll help you listen for your whispers if you’ll help me recognize mine. Meanwhile, as we crouch behind the doors of our house built solidly on rock, let the storms come. Our God is greater! Thanks for writing!

  2. I think if more people
    in the world listened for
    the whisper, it would be
    such a different place…..

    Love this post, even though
    I know you are struggling to
    figure out what comes next.
    Know that many of your
    readers and friends are in
    that boat, waiting with you!

    xo Suzanne

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