Carrying the canoe: Find a helping hand

Summer camp was an important feature of my younger years.

There were few things I anticipated and enjoyed more each year than heading north for a week of camp. Camp, in all of its various iterations, played a crucial role in my development as a follower of Jesus. It was at a camp that I first felt the call to become a pastor. It was at camp that I developed important relationships that still support and strengthen me today.

The church in which I grew up afforded some incredible and unique summer camp opportunities. Only once through my elementary and middle school years did I attend a camp that was not completely staffed by volunteers and populated by campers from my church.

Due to the size of the church, we simply rented a camp and took it over for our session. As a result, my relationships with counselors and cabin mates continued well beyond the week of camp. In fact, I still have contact with several counselors, including my very first counselor, and I maintain close friendships with many fellow campers.

But the uniqueness and the intensity of the camping experience increased dramatically through the high school and college years.

Rather than renting a camp, the church transported campers to Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. They dropped campers off with a couple of experienced adult guides from our church and sent them out into the wilderness with backpacks, cooking supplies, tents and canoes to wander around for a week. Few things teach you lessons about yourself and others like sharing the limited space of a tent while carrying a canoe around the great, untamed outdoors.

Portaging is an important skill when canoeing around the wilderness. Usually, one rides in the canoe, making travel more efficient and comfortable.

Occasionally, though, there are places where land must be traversed, and in those moments, the canoe gets to take a ride on you. This is portaging, and it is not the most fun activity. Not only does the canoe have to be carried across the land, but all of your gear must be carried, as well. So when we would reach a portage, we would get “loaded down like borrowed mules,” as my father-in-law likes to say, heft the canoe over our heads and head on down the trail.

It didn’t take long for us to realize it was difficult to carry the canoe and navigate the trail on our own. It was much easier to stay on the trail with a trusted partner to go ahead and give warnings for how to best negotiate the terrain.

It was nice to have a gracious co-laborer who could grab the front or back of the canoe from time to time to lift some of the load off the shoulders. And it was invaluable to have an understanding friend to offer encouragement, reminding you that you can do it and calling you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons I learned through those experiences. For a variety of reasons, the proverbial path has felt extremely difficult and at times discouraging in this season of life. It has been all too easy to try to go it alone and in the process become overwhelmed and exhausted.

In times like these, as we portage the dry ground between the smooth waters of life, it is crucial we find trustworthy, compassionate and encouraging partners to help us carry the load and keep moving forward.

God has blessed me with many people who have walked with me over the years. One such person in my life is my good friend, Mike Miller. Interestingly enough, our friendship was established as we camped and carried canoes around the wilderness. While the load we’re carrying may have changed, Mike continues to help me navigate the path, lighten the load and encourage me to keep pressing forward on the path of life.

In Ecclesiastes 4, it says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

It’s much easier to carry the proverbial canoe with a friend. We could all use a friendly voice and a helping hand both early and often.

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