Lean into the Rapids — Rejoice in Trials

Last year I went whitewater rafting on the Kern River with my 11-year old son David and his by Boy Scout trip. What a thrilling adventure! And scary too! Driving on the highway along the river we saw a sign that said, “264 people have died in the Kern river since 1962.” Then when we got to the river I learned that just one-week prior someone had died rafting that section of the river!

I thought about getting back in the car with my boy and driving home!

“High Water Hard!”

This was on my mind at the roughest section of the Class 3 rapids when our guide yelled, “High water hard!” High water hard? Earlier he had taught us, “If I yell, ‘High water hard!’ that means we’re heading down into fast rapids. You have to lean forward into the high waters and paddle hard or else we’ll flip over! Especially if you’re one of the front paddlers we need you.”

That’s where I was — in the front of the raft! So when he yelled, “High water hard!” I leaned out over the tip of the raft and into the splashing waves and paddled furiously. We navigated past jutting rocks, crashed through whitewater turbulence splashing in our faces, and then dove down a five foot waterfall as I screamed, “Ahhhhhh!” and then finally exclaimed, “Yes! We did it!”

My excitement and sense of conquest was abruptly curtailed though when our guide yelled out to his partner guiding the raft just behind us, “Rescue!”

One of the women on our raft had been catapulted into the water! She was careening down the river head first — not feet first as she had been instructed! — and had to be pulled to safety by the other guide. She bruised and bloodied her hand and needed to be taken to the hospital. She ended up being find, just needing some stitches and a lot of ice.

My son and I, and all of us on the raft, gained something important from prevailing in our battle with the roaring whitewaters and crashing waves –- trust. We learned to trust that our guide. He knew this section of the Kern River like the back of his hand and he was an expert at navigating turbulent waters.

But paddling into waves crashing in our faces? Leading over the tip of a raft that is plunging straight down a waterfall? That’s a lot of trust!

But we did it. We put our lives in the hands of our certified guide.

Rejoice in Trials

“High water hard!” That’s like “Rejoice in trials!” The Bible teaches: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4, NIV84)

Rejoice in trials? It’s the opposite of what we tend to do. We lean away from life’s turbulence when we complain about our problems or avoid other people who are hurting.

That’s what I found myself doing a few months ago when my raft crashed into a series of rapids with my son David. Disobedience, defiance, negativity, bullying his younger sisters. It was normal pre-adolescent stuff, but it sure stressed me out! I had to catch myself so as not to react in anger or become irritable and grumpy.

Upon reflection and talking with Kristi about what was going on with David we realized that underneath his bad behavior he felt pressured and overwhelmed by schoolwork, added responsibilities, and feeling like he wasn’t appreciated in our home.

I’m a psychologist so you might think this parenting stuff is easy for me. Let me tell you, it’s tough to be a psychologist and a parent! You don’t believe me? The other day my 9-year old daughter complained, “Dad, you don’t even care about how I feel. You shouldn’t be a counselor for other people!”

“Lean into the rough waters Bill. Rejoice in your trials.”

I told myself that this was an opportunity to teach my son to respect authority. I had the chance to show him that my love for him (and especially God’s love for him) doesn’t change even when he’s difficult or disobedient. I had the opportunity to be like Jesus in my trial. And, or course, the only way to be like Jesus is to be with Jesus, to rely on his Spirit of grace.


Dear Lord Jesus, you are the best Guide for our lives and our families. When you yell, “High water hard!” your giving us a message of love and the best advice. You’ve gone before us and you know how to live a good life and to be at peace in our relationships. You’ve forgiven our sins and given us your Holy Spirit. You’ve shown us how to rejoice in trials by placing ourselves in the Kingdom of God — the kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Thank you Lord! In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit we pray. Amen.


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