Learning Life Lessons on a Paddleboard

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"Learning life lessons on a paddleboard" by Sarah Damm (CatholicMom.com)

Photo by Ben North (2018) via Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain

“Some of us would be surprised if they knew what God could make of them if, in the decisive moments of their lives, they gave ear to the voice of grace!” —St. Ignatius of Loyola

This summer, I checked something off my bucket list. I went paddleboarding for the very first time with eight women from my running group. Many of these ladies run marathons, and all of them workout way more than I do. I have not run longer than a 5K, and that was a few years ago.

Shortly after that 5K race, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid, causes fatigue, and is responsible for a slew of other symptoms. It slows me down physically, but it also affects me mentally.

Living with chronic illness is teaching me a lot. I am learning that movement, even slow movement, is better than standing still. For when I stop (physically and mentally), I become paralyzed. I focus too much on what I cannot do, and I stop trusting what God can do through me.

Paddleboarding confirmed this truth in more ways than one.

Paddleboarding 101

It was a sunny, warm day. My friends and I arrived at the lake and were outfitted with life jackets, paddles, and boards. Kim, our instructor, gave us an initial lesson on dry land. She explained the importance of the ankle leash, which keeps a paddleboarder safe if (when!) she falls into the water. Kim also showed us the proper way to hold the paddle and how to transition from kneeling to standing.

When it was time launch, I knelt onto my board and paddled past the swimming children and adults lounging on pineapple-shaped floats. Immediately after we cleared the people, Kim instructed us to stand.

Wait! What? Can’t I spend a few more minutes on my knees?

Nope. I guess not.

Standing up on my paddleboard was a bit scary, at first. I felt unstable and tense. I thought I would fall at any moment. But as I stood, I gave ear to Kim’s instruction to look at the horizon and keep paddling. I focused on moving forward (even slowly) and reaching my goal (the yellow raft across the lake), not on how I felt about it (self-conscious and awkward).

Walking on Water

The lake was busy that day. There were many motorized boats on the water, and therefore plenty of rippling waves. Inevitably, I fell into the lake when worry about the rocky waters overshadowed my focus.

The moment reminded me of the time when Peter was able to walk on water, because he fixed his focus on Jesus.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29)

When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, however, he fell.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

After falling off my board, I tried to stand up again. But standing up the second time was harder than the first. I paid more attention to my uncertainty and the wavy waters than on moving forward.

I immediately fell again.

I felt a lot like Peter.

Kim told me that my form was perfect, upon standing. But because I didn’t trust myself, I fell in. She was right. And her rebuke, as kind as it was, reminded me of Jesus’ response to Peter’s fear.

“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

When I tried a third time to get up, I didn’t think, I didn’t worry, and I didn’t doubt. I gave ear to the voice of grace, so to speak. I simply acted, trusted, and focused. And it made all the difference in the world.

The Real Lesson

My paddleboarding lesson taught me a lot more than the basics of a new sport. It taught me a lot about myself, too.

Learning to paddleboard taught me that stopping in the middle of the lake causes me to fall, while moving forward keeps me upright.

And that is the same in life, too.

For far too long, I believed that Hashimoto’s required me to stop dreaming, to stop moving, and to wait to the point of stagnancy. The enemy of my soul wants me to fall and fail. He wants me stuck and fearful. He wants me to wobble and feel unstable, like I initially felt on the paddleboard. When I let fear get in the way of taking the next right step, I overthink things. I analyze to the point of paralysis, frustration, and a type of imprisonment. Sometimes, I think I’m even afraid of potential success, when I look down at the difficult path  … the wavy waters.

But the Lord wants so much more for me! God beckons me to keep moving, keep paddling. Remember, even small, slow movements are movements forward! God invites me to trust that He will keep me upright. When I focus on the goal in front of me, when I keep my eyes on the Lord, when I give ear to His voice, I realize my potential. The Lord can do so much through me (Philippians 4:13).

Let God Surprise

Learning to paddleboard helped me discover that I can accomplish more than I realize.

Did this surprise me? Yes, I think it did.

It also made me wonder: Do I get in the way of God’s plan for me? Do I lack trust in Him? Do I lack faith in what He can do through me?

Thankfully, paddleboarding also reminded me that God patiently encourages me to “take courage” and “be not afraid.” (v. 27) He invites me to keep my eyes on Him and to rely on what He can do in me.

What can God make of me, if I only give ear to the voice of grace? How can He transform my fears, weaknesses, and imperfections into something wonderful?

Oh, Lord, give me a heart to trust. Help me to keep my eyes on You. Give me the grace to be surprised by what You can do in me. Amen.

"Learning life lessons on a paddleboard" by Sarah Damm (CatholicMom.com)

Photo by Ben North (2018) via Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain


Copyright 2018 Sarah Damm

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About Author

Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mother of six children, living in Minnesota. She spends her days running errands, cooking meals and helping with homework. She and her husband Greg strive to weave the Catholic faith into their daily lives as well as into their family celebrations. Sarah blogs at sarahdamm.com. In addition to CatholicMom.com, she also is a contributor for WINE: Women in the New Evangelization.

1 Comment

  1. We canoed often before we had kids. I’d love to get back into it now that they’re not babies and could handle an afternoon in a canoe. Paddleboarding would be fun too! I always find I’m more open to hearing God’s lessons when I’m doing something outdoors.

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