As a kid, one of my favorite summertime activities was sitting on the back of Uncle Bud’s “woody” station wagon. Legs dangling and arms around each other’s shoulders, my cousins and I sat in the woody as it bumped and skidded over the dirt and gravel roads to Lake Wauconda—just down the road from the family’s summer cottage. Those were the days before seat belts and air bags. Less safe then, but lots more fun!
Then came the best time of all—going for a ride in Uncle Bud’s freshly painted row boat. The shiny oars sparkled in the sun as we lowered them into the water and then took turns rowing our way across the lake.
Uncle Bud sat in back, barking orders when we got distracted watching other boaters or became too giddy. “Pay attention to what you’re doing,” he shouted. “Row your own boat. That way, no one gets hurt.”
I remember giggling when I first heard him say that. How could we possibly row someone else’s boat? He explained what he meant. “Keep your mind and your eyes on what you’re doing. Be responsible for your actions, and you’ll be fun and have fun.”
I hadn’t thought about that sage advice for 50 years or more—until last month when my husband, Charles, and I took a cruise to Alaska. The first evening, we were seated in the dining room at a table with another married couple, Edie and John. We enjoyed getting to know them as they shared details about their family, their marriage of seven years—the second for each of them—and their life in a new home on a lake in Indiana, where they had recently moved. As they talked about the pleasure of lakeside living, I was suddenly reminded of those carefree summers of long ago at Lake Wauconda.
Then the most amazing thing occurred. Edie talked about a situation in their family that was painful and disappointing. I leaned forward, finding it easy to empathize with her, as some of the things she shared were similar to events in my life.
When Edie finished, she took a sip of water and sat back in silence. I was about to comment, to ask how she managed such a challenge, when she piped up again. “It’s not in our boat,” she said, smiling.
John looked on, patted her shoulder tenderly and agreed. “That’s right. It’s not in our boat. We’re learning to take care of what’s in our own boat and leaving other people—even if they are related to us—to take care of what’s in theirs.”
I felt as though I were listening to Uncle Bud all over again. “Row your own boat.” Hands off other boats. So be it. Amen!
Oh, but it’s much easier and more fun to row someone else’s boat! I find that this is especially true as I grow older. I have so much wisdom to offer my friends and family (why, I’m a legend in my own mind!), and I love to look through their belongings, to pick and choose what I think they should keep and what to toss overboard, and to take some of their stuff into my boat so that they won’t have to row so hard. I can come up with a list of suggestions a mile long for how to row smoothly, if only they’d ask me.
They don’t usually, but that doesn’t stop me from offering my advice anyway—or being tempted to—and then wondering why they turn away or cut back on our time together. Alas! I am my own worst enemy—the pirate at the helm, ready to take over someone else’s ship, while my own is sinking.
And what does all this have to do with faith? Everything! When I row for others or take their burdens and put them in my boat (children who have left the church, a relative living a lesbian lifestyle, a couple living together outside of marriage), I am doing for them what only they (and God) can do. I am assuming that I know more about how to resolve their problems than God does.
But most important, I am taking my eyes off rowing my own boat and maintaining the things that I am called to carry. A collision, a man overboard, a sinking is surely inevitable if I keep this up. So today, with the eyes of faith, I will row my own boat and support others with prayer and love in rowing theirs—regardless of what I see with my human eyes.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Lord, I thank You with a full heart for the gift of faith.
Today, I will toss overboard what belongs to others, take stock of what to keep in my own boat and then row as God leads.