My kids have become rather avid readers, one of the few positive attributes they’ve inherited from me. And as such, the house seems to be overrun with Dr. Seuss, Jack and Jill, Winnie the Pooh, and an assortment of fairies and princesses. I am now reading and being read to, and that’s fine by me. Because wisdom can come from anywhere, and especially from kids and what they read.
One could compare this world to a beautiful stream, big and power enough to almost be called a river but not quite. It winds and flows and no one knows exactly where it begins or ends, just that it does somewhere sometime. It is a grand thing, this stream. Its beauty and wonder can never truly be described, though many have tried.
You and I are on that stream. All of us. And we each have our own boat. They provide us with a place to sit, a roof to give us shelter, and two big, sturdy oars that can take us wherever we wish.
Some people think they have a better boat than others. They think their boat is a little roomier and more fancy. Others take great pains to decorate their boats. They paint and varnish and polish, going to great lengths to ensure their boats are different from everyone else’s. It might seem that is indeed the case, but in truth all of our boats are pretty much the same and we all have everything we need.
Lots of people don’t like the fact that their boat has oars. They say having oars means you have to try. God should have given us sails, they say. So they choose to sit in their boats and wait for God to use the oars for them. These people don’t get very far down the stream. Sure, sometimes the current moves them along a little. But mostly they just turn around and around and never really go anywhere.
Other people use their oars as hard and as often as they can. They never slow down. To them, the whole point of the boat and the stream is to beat everyone else. They have to win the race, even though no one is sure if there is a race or not or, if there is, what constitutes the finish line. So they row and row and row, faster and faster. Then they wonder how those nasty rocks and waterfalls they keep running into can sneak up on them so quickly.
The stream might be beautiful, but there are still plenty of dangers. You have to be careful. Focusing on being the first and the best can make them miss the pleasures of travelling down the stream. They don’t realize that using the oars too much is just as bad as not using them at all. Better is to just go along gently. We’ll all get there eventually. Easy does it. Better for the soul, I think.
Other people are more in touch with the situation. They realized that they are going to have to use the oars if they want to go anywhere, so they do. And things are fine for a while, but then they begin to tire. Using the oars is necessary, they say, but it is also a burden. They, too, forget the fun involved, the pleasures of heading farther and farther down the stream, and their hearts harden. They hate the water and they hate the God who put them there. The smile they might have once had is now a frown, and when their boat passes another’s there are no pleasant greetings or warm welcomes, just anger and resentment.
That isn’t the way God wants us to navigate the stream, either. Sure, it’s hard. But we have to enjoy ourselves. We have to have fun along the way.
Finally, there are the folks who think there is nothing but the stream. They study the stream, analyze the currents, and theorize about how it all came to be. Their eyes are fixed on what is beneath them, but not what is around them. In all of their pontificating and study, they fail to see the Truth.
But that isn’t the way to go, either. Dreams and faith and hope and all the other things no one can see are the most important things when you go down the stream.
I’ve known all of this for a while, and chances are you have, too. But I was never quite sure how to communicate it. Not until the other night. Not until I read:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.
I’ve had a rocky ride down that stream sometimes, but I’ve always tried to keep rowing. It’s not easy sometimes, but then again the point seems to be not to make things easier, but better. And all the sights along the way make the trip worthwhile.
I don’t fear reaching the end of the stream, either. By that time I figure my arms will be tired and I will need some rest anyway. So when the time come to put my oars down and get out of my boat, I may just have that wise children’s rhyme put on my tombstone.
Because life really is but a dream. And death? Death is simply when we wake up.