LCN Article
Lessons from a Swamped Canoe

November / December 2019

Gerald E. Weston

Dear Brethren,

Canoes are not the most stable watercraft. Though I’ve owned one—even fished out of it on many occasions—and have taken several multi-night excursions in fully loaded canoes, they still feel a bit wobbly when I first step into them. But I tend to relax after paddling a while.

For this year’s Adventure Camp, 16 two-man canoes explored the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. What I would have given for such an opportunity when I was a teen! I must admit that, at my age, sleeping on the ground and dealing with flying pests is a bit of a different experience than it was in my younger days. And when it was all over, my thought was, “I’m glad I did it, but this will be my last time.” But now that some weeks have passed, the itch to do it again is returning.

In this article, I want to pass along a lesson learned from this Adventure Camp. After all, apart from the fun and the challenge, learning lessons is what such trips are about.

Only a couple of hours into the journey’s first day, we rounded a corner to Windy Point—aptly named, though I understand that the gusts of wind that day were stronger than normal. By then we had already ironed out a few problems, learning how to pair canoeists and finding out who served best in the stern of each canoe, where steering is done. Nevertheless, we were still a “green” crew.

The swells were high with whitecaps, and each pair of canoeists struggled to make progress while keeping their canoe heading into the waves. Unsurprisingly, one canoe was caught sideways and then swamped. Righting an empty canoe in a calm lagoon is not the same as dealing with a fully loaded canoe while battling wind and waves. Another canoe pulled up and tried to help but also swamped. Before it was over, a third canoe swamped, as well—and all were several hundred yards from shore.

Thankfully, further assistance came and everyone made it to the shore. I am not sure of all the details, as Mr. Leonard Hine and I were several hundred yards further from shore and making little progress, just maintaining our stability in the rough waters. We eventually had to make a difficult maneuver and ride to shore with the waves at our back.

On the surface this might appear to have been a disaster, but in fact it was one of the best things that could have happened, as it taught us something very important early on. Everyone was following the strict rule of wearing a lifejacket. Although the canoes were fully loaded with tents, food, sleeping bags, and much other paraphernalia, almost nothing was lost, because all was meticulously tied down prior to starting the trip. Nearly everything was also packed in waterproof baggage—only a few items got wet. Canoeists made it to shore, repacked, and got ready to move on. Thus, the lesson: Swamping a canoe is not a disaster if you properly prepare for such an eventuality. Swamping is part of canoeing, just as falling down is part of learning to walk. No one wants to swamp, but it happens—and everyone realized afterward that it was something we could handle. We were not deterred. After all, this was Adventure Camp, and we experienced a real-life adventure!

From an early age, we learn to deal with adversity. We fall down many times before we learn to walk. We pick ourselves up and try again. Sometimes a fall hurts and tears are shed, but we never quit trying until we finally learn. We all experience greater falls as we grow. Few of us break bones from our tumbles as we learn to walk, but bumps and bruises become greater when we begin running and climbing. Riding a bike often brings mishaps, and driving a car introduces more serious dangers. We take a chance when we get married or start a business. And no matter what the endeavor, there can always be that “swamped canoe.”

Our lives are like canoe trips. We grow in perspective and confidence every time we swamp, make our way to shore, repack, and shove off again. We realize that most setbacks are not the end of our world. The book of Proverbs tells us that “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16). And Micah explains, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (7:8). There truly is light at the end of the tunnel for the man or woman who looks to God for help.

When was the last time your canoe swamped? Was it a lost job or a car accident? Was it a frightening diagnosis from the doctor? Was it the death of a child or spouse? Did you go through a painful breakup with someone you thought was the one, or did you experience a divorce? No matter what it was and how awful it seemed at the time, it wasn’t—and isn’t—the end of the world. You make your way to shore, repack, and shove off again.

Dear brethren, I hope this does not sound too much like many a Spokesman Club speech, simply to be evaluated and forgotten. We need to remember this lesson, because our world is entering troubled waters—a fact obvious to anyone with open eyes. The world around us is becoming increasingly evil, and although hostility toward God can be found in all eras of human history, the open animosity displayed today is different. Our world is changing—and changing rapidly. There is real hatred against God and His law (Leviticus 26:15; Romans 8:7). Freedom of speech, religion, and association are under attack to a shocking degree throughout most of the Western world. We are watching as prophecy is fulfilled before our eyes: “Justice is turned back… for truth is fallen in the street…. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (Isaiah 59:14–15).

We are living in momentous times. We must not set dates, but God’s judgment against an evil world will not be delayed forever. Yet the righteous man need not fear nor shrink from the battle. David did not face Goliath timidly. He spoke out confidently, with faith in God, and ran to meet the giant who defied the armies of the living God. Neither should we shrink back when we see an evil wave coming our way.

Do you understand what lies ahead? Luke 21:12–19 and numerous other passages should teach us a lesson. Just as a canoeist must prepare for both the expected and the unexpected, we must do the same for trials we know are coming. We can see the waves on the horizon and should understand that it will be a rough ride, but if we are close to our Elder Brother—who paved the way for us—we will finish the course. As Philippians 4:13 assures us, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us—yet we must hold Him as close as a lifejacket and meticulously tie everything down, not to be taken from us by the waves and winds ahead, as we look forward to the successful end of our adventurous journey!

signed by Gerald Weston