Column: Swimming whitewater: Learning to learn before

I took a whitewater rafting class for physical education credits when I was in college.

It was without question the most enjoyable class I have taken in my entire life. We spent two days in a classroom talking about principles of whitewater rafting. I don’t remember most of what the professor said during those two days in class. As you might expect from a college aged kid, I just wanted to get out on the river and ride.

I do, however, remember the professor spent a reasonable amount of time talking about safety “stuff” with particular focus on what one should do should one find oneself out of the boat and in the rapids. It all seemed fairly common sense in the moment, so I respectfully listened, then moved on to the next thing.

As one classmate noted, “Experience is the best teacher. We’ll figure it out on the river.” His words were a harbinger of things to come.

Within a week, we were out running the rapids. Every week, we would make three to four trips down the Lower New River. It was amazing. Even with all of those consecutive trips, the experience never got old for me. In fact, I felt we were experiencing and learning something new and exciting every trip.

Personally, I had very little need or desire to seek any further excitement than we were already experiencing. Some of my classmates, however, saw things differently. They felt in order to truly experience all the river had to offer, one should be in the river.

Swimming a rapid seemed to miss the purpose of the raft portion of whitewater rafting in my mind, but it was a requirement for those who wanted to be guides, so I decided I would join them in the water. Besides, how bad could it be?

We got in the water just before the last rapid of the day, Fayette Station. Upon entering the water, I immediately noticed how strong the current was and how incredibly quickly we were moving. Before we hopped in the water, our professor encouraged us to remember all we’d learned in class, you know, all of the safety “stuff.” I tried to think back, but I could remember very little.

Suddenly, I heard the professor screaming, “Swim left! Feet up!” As I turned to begin swimming left, the current pulled me under and into the rapid. I went into full-out panic mode. I was no longer swimming left nor keeping my feet up. I was trying to stand up and grasping for anything or anyone who was unlucky enough to be close enough for me to grab.

At that moment, literally everything I had ever learned about what to do when in whitewater went out of my head. What I had failed to learn in the classroom experience was now teaching me in the real world. Experience taught me some lessons I would never forget, but I sure did wish I had listened and learned those lessons in the comfort of the classroom rather than in the chaos of the river.

We’ve all had areas where we failed to understand or apply wisdom that has been imparted through other means and found ourselves learning on the fly as life smacks us upside our hard heads.

How many times in those moments, though, do we think back to the wise words of parents, teachers, leaders and preachers from our past and wish we’d listened? How often do the words of Bible verses we learned in Sunday school or read on grandma’s wall creep into our mind reminding us of what we should have done?

We all enroll in the school of hard knocks from time to time, but often, those lessons could and should have already been learned. We can’t always avoid the difficulties and dangers of life, but we can make the effort to learn and teach others how to handle them before they come.

In James 1:22, it reads, “Don’t just listen to God’s Word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” Not only do we fool ourselves when we hear the truth and fail to act upon it, we run the very real risk of making fools of ourselves, as well.

I couldn’t avoid the struggle of the swirling current of the river once I jumped in, but I could have been better prepared to handle it had I listened and acted appropriately before the struggle came.

Rather than foolishly jumping in and hoping everything works out, perhaps we would be better served to listen to wise counsel, to seek out the truth and store it in our hearts and minds and to put what we learn into practice while life is calm.

And then, just maybe, the next time the struggle hits, you won’t need to learn the lesson the hard way because the right course of action will be second nature.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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