Swimming Up Stream

If you’ve seen The Chosen, I want you to get into your head the intro scene for a moment. You know the one with the “Walk on Water” song and the fish swimming backwards. I’ve always loved this intro since my family and I started watching the show. I think it speaks to the nature and calling of the Christian life that there are many times and places that we cannot “go with the flow” but rather have a need to swim backwards, even if the majority of the fish are swimming downstream!

What the opening doesn’t illustrate, however, is the force of the current. If you’ve ever tried to swim in a river (or, perhaps, in the ocean when the tide is pulling in one direction), you know that as humans it is virtually impossible to swim against the current. You get burnt out. Exhausted. Depleted of energy. Eventually, you either decide to get out completely or you just let the current take you wherever it goes. Sometimes you get pushed down stream so far that when you do get out, you get out at a place you don’t even recognize.

The question of the “how to swim upstream” has left me perplexed at times. How, Jesus, can we possibly fight the current? The drift of culture, the drift of the “wisdom of the world”, and as it applies to the work that we do, the drift of the abortion industry? Ultimately, will we not get exhausted, burnt out, tired, depleted, or…perhaps worse…decide that the fight against the current is hopeless and so we just get out altogether? How can we possibly be expected to swim backwards?!

I think this is one of the reasons the early Church chose fish as a metaphor to work with as the identity of the Christian. Fish don’t fight the current like we humans do. If you’ve ever spent time fishing or hopping from rock to rock in a river, there are often times when you see a fish just sitting there against a boulder, parked near a cove, or traveling the still waters from place to place. Very rarely are fish actively fighting the white-water torrents. Sometimes, yes, there is no way around this. The fish has to get into the rapids or has to jump the waterfall to get to the next place. But for the most part, a fish that goes upstream doesn’t fight the drift with all its energy. It weaves and winds its way through the river, resting in the safe places that have been tested by scores of fish before it, waiting in patience, never making rash decisions about where to go next but always calculating the next move based on its long-term goal to arrive home.

We have had a particularly rough start to the year with some of the clients we have seen. We’ve been busy! Our STI clinic has doubled in its client load since last year. Difficult telecare calls seem to come in droves. And it seems like there’s an uptick in the amount of abortion minded clients coming through our doors. More than once I’ve heard from veteran staff “We’ve not encountered this situation before.” Many of our clients seem to be waist deep in trauma. There have been many times our advocates have cried with and for clients in the pain they are going through. All of it is enough to make you wonder, “Can I actually withstand the current? Are these waters simply too rough for me to swim upstream in?”

This week I asked our staff to do what’s called a “Cycle Down Week” and I think it’s a rhythm I would like to put into regular practice. A week where we can pull back a bit from the hard and difficult current, find a boulder to rest behind, take a little break in some still water of the work we do and remember why we are even swimming upstream after all. What awaits us in the open waters? What awaits our clients there? Why is this trek even worth it? It allows us to ask Jesus “Are we following you?” And I think, when we take these moments of resting in the still waters, it gives us a reassurance that the upstream fight is worth it and, perhaps, not as hard as we initially thought when we relying on our own strength.

Jesus invites us to be fish swimming upstream. Our culture will say “Go with the flow, it’s easier” but this really is not the approach Jesus asks of us. Yes, there are times where we have to get into the torrent and fight the force of the water with every ounce of energy we have. But at the same time, Jesus does promise us that if we cast our burdens on him, he has the potential to still the waters we navigate! And, at the very least, he will navigate those waters with us (Lk 8.22-25). We have to remember that even in the navigation of going upstream, Jesus promises to take our burdens upon himself! He can take the force of the water if we let him!

Whatever you are going through, whatever our staff is going through, and whatever our clients are going through we want to be reminded that Jesus does not ask us to go upriver on our own strength. We follow him for he has already charted the course. He has already been to the open sea (he created it and he is in it!) and he promises to show us the way. We need merely to follow him!