Before spending a week on a houseboat, I took an online boating safety course which I’d taken a few years ago. Even though I previously owned and sailed a series of boats, I wanted to refresh my understanding of aids to navigation, powerboat operation, and basic safety procedures. I downloaded and studied a chart of the St. Johns River so I would know places to avoid, good anchorages, and bridge clearance heights. I had never been on the St. Johns River, nor had I been on a houseboat, let alone pilot one.
At the marina a boat hand gave us a ten-minute lesson on the chart, the boat operation, and safety procedures. He then backed the boat out of its slip and motored a few yards passed the marina. He told me to take the wheel and had me do a U-turn. I docked the boat with him telling me every move to make. After my five-minute test run, he stepped off and told us we were on our own.
It took me a while to get the hang of navigating the 45-foot-long and 14-foot-wide shoebox with no rudder or keel to keep it going straight. I zigzagged upriver the first afternoon but eventually got the hang of it. However, afternoon thunderstorms with gusts of 40 miles an hour would suddenly catch the boat and push it sideways toward the riverbank. In storms it was a struggle to bring it back to the river channel. I was always supposed to keep the boat in the channel, but it was not always clear where the channel was.
Some of the loops along the river that were supposed to be good anchorages were overgrown with vegetation. Logs were sticking out into the river, sometimes just under the surface. The chart had names like “Catfish Bend” and “Mud Lake,” but there are no signs on the river identifying them. I made mistakes but, fortunately, was able to recover without putting us in danger or damaging the boat. Several times I wished the dockhand was still on board telling me where I was or what to do.
Many of us have learned about Christianity for years. We’ve listened to sermons, read Christian books, and studied the Bible. We know we are supposed to love God, love each other, and even love our enemies. We have been taught to forgive those who harm us and to be kind and patient with others. We have learned to be honest, ethical, and lead moral lives.
Yet it’s not so easy to live into Christian virtues. Some days it’s like being on an uncharted river in an unfamiliar boat. Sometimes it’s not clear which way to go or what we need to do.
It reminds me of a prayer:
Dear Lord, So far, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help.
Like an experienced captain, the Lord helps us make decisions every day. Of course, sometimes we don’t hear because of all of life’s distraction. Or we refuse to listen because we think our way is better. Or we won’t follow God’s guidance and end up running aground or wrecking the boat. Yet even then, the Lord is gracious to forgive us, to remain aboard to help us change, and not to throw us to the alligators. I remain grateful for God’s grace.