Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Skipping Rocks

When I was a kid my father would sometimes take me and my brothers or friends down to the marina by our house to do some fishing. An inevitable activity that occurred at some point was skipping rocks. My dad could really skip rocks well. When he taught me how to do it I can remember my excitement as I watched that first skip over the surface of the water. That activity seemed to occur whenever I was near a water source with rocks nearby from then on.
When our kids were younger my wife and I would often go out to the river that winds its way through our town to take our kids for walks along the banks. As always I continued to automatically search for rocks that I could skip. After the kids saw me do it for the first time they were suitably awed at my skill, and wanted to see it again, and again, and again. It became a custom to automatically search for rocks for dad to skip anytime we went to the river after that. Even when I didn’t really feel like skipping rocks I would find myself standing there with handfuls of rocks that my family had gathered for me. It’s not that I was that good, they just hadn’t seen anyone else skip rocks before. It’s kind of like being the first one to play a new video game, no matter how bad you do you still get the highest score on the score board because no one else has played it yet.
I taught the kids to look for rocks that were best for skipping. It had to be flat on at least one side, preferably round and not too big. I had to make the size limitation after they tried to bring me rocks they could barely carry with both hands. One day as we were on one of our outings at the river, during the inevitable rock search one of the kids found THE perfect skipping rock. It was perfectly round, just the right thickness and weight, and fit my hand just right. This was the rock David would have kept as he searched for rocks to put in his sling against Goliath. It wasn’t possible to mess up a throw with this rock. Anyway you threw it this rock would skip!
“This is a PERFECT rock!” I exclaimed.
I don’t know of anyone who ever got that excited over a rock. My kids looked at me smiling in expectation. My wife laughed. “It’s a rock!” she said.
“Yeah, but it’s a PERFECT rock!” I replied in defense.
“Throw it dad, throw it!” the kids yelled excitedly.
I set my feet for the proper throwing stance. There is a science to this after all.
I hefted the rock in my hand to gauge the weight, and took the proper grip. I swung my arm experimentally a few times just to make sure I had the right angle.
Then came the throw. I brought my arm back and pivoted as it swung forward, and let the rock fly, almost loathe to let it go because I knew I would never see a rock like this again. It flew toward the surface at great speed, and I wondered just how many skips I could get out of this one.
There was a little splash as the stone hit the water, and sank straight to the bottom. Ripples radiated out from the surface where it hit.
There was a stunned silence before I heard Kaytie say, “What happened Daddy?”
“How come it didn’t skip?” asked Jennifer.
I could hear my ever-graceful wife stifling a laugh behind me.
“I messed up!” I whined.
Somewhere along the way I had miscalculated. I had failed to use the rock in a way that would bring out its greatest potential. Now I realize that this rock was not created just for me to skip it, but its presence on that shoreline taught me a lesson.
There are a great many tools that God has placed at my disposal which I often fail to use in the proper way, or even fail to use at all. My life is one of them.
I have a great potential in the hands of the living God. Unlike the rock, which simply sits there to be used for anything that the mind of a wholly uncoordinated individual like me can come up with, I must choose to put myself in the hands of Him who has the ability to use me best. All the yesterdays I look back on will not change them. All the things I think I could have done better will not change the past, however, God is fully capable of using my worst days for a future good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28. By giving Him our past He can change our future, and when we still make our mistakes, or fail miserably at things, or experience the proverbial “trial by fire”, our greatest strength is not in the way we pick ourselves up and go on. Our greatest strength is our ability to recognize our inabilities, to recognize that out of the lump of coal we have produced He can make a priceless diamond.
The real issue then, becomes one of ownership, because I have to give Him my life in order for it to be transformed. I cannot expect the coal to become a diamond if I do not first put it into His hands in order to apply the correct pressure at the right time.
After my failure to skip that perfect rock, I picked up another, and skipped it successfully. I skipped several more and my children forgot about my failure, as children often do. They were more than willing to leave me up on a pedestal because I was their dad, even though I did not deserve that honor. As children they were more than willing to dismiss my faults, and I tried to show them a better side of myself, even while I moped inside at my loss of that perfect stone. Now they are adults, and I find I have to try harder to show them that honorable side. They are more astute at recognizing my failures, but at the same time just as willing to forgive them. “You didn’t come to a complete stop there dad.” “I don’t think you’re supposed to make a aU-turn there, dad.” Needless to say I become more conscious of some of my less than stellar habits.
The more willing I am to come down off that pedestal, the easier it is to gain forgiveness. As I put God on the pedestal more often, instead of claiming ownership of that position for myself I give Him the authority to make the necessary changes in me. He is not the God who gives me what I deserve, but who gives what I desperately need. My survival in Him is painless for me to gain, because it was painful for Him to pay the price. So I am more than content to merely sit at His feet. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:10
It’s funny sometimes, but not surprising, that when I step down and He takes His rightful place on that pedestal He looks a lot bigger than me, and the best that I can do is just a feeble imitation of Him. I suppose the humor lies in the fact that I thought I could adequately fill that space at all. I have discovered that my role in the lives of others is a tool as well. I can do damage in that role or I can be a healing, comforting and joyful presence.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15. There are times when I struggle with how I should accomplish those things. It is often easier to lash back in anger than to reach out in love. It is easier to sit in judgement than to offer forgiveness. Frankly, the bottom line is that it’s easier to be an idiot than it is to be vulnerable. Putting myself in God’s hands for His use almost guarantees that I will wind up being used in a way or a place that I do not prefer. I will likely wind up somewhere outside of my own “comfort zone”. I have my own ideas of what I should do in this world that I have thought through pretty thoroughly. If things go as I want them to then all will be well, but there are plenty of examples in my lifetime of the best laid plans gone awry. And, every so often, my preferences actually fall in line with His when I actually spend time listening to Him before I make my plans.
So now I have a choice when I skip rocks. I don’t have control over the physics that cause them to fly in a given direction or angle once they leave my hand. So I can make a big pile of perfect rocks and stare at them wondering at their potential, or I can just start throwin’ em and see what they do. They will all eventually wind up where God needs them to be regardless of my influence.
©Dan Bode 2000