I’ve been trying to figure out an analogy for a few days.
Imagine a canoe. There are people in it. One person is seated toward the front of the canoe, with a paddle. This person is strong. He/she is primarily required to paddle.
There is a person in the back of the canoe. This person is the most experienced of all in the canoe, but not necessarily the strongest, physically. This person is in charge of steering the canoe, and must be able to diplomatically lead the rest of the people in the canoe while directing their little boat.
Though not pictured, imagine that there is a person in the middle of the canoe. This person also has a paddle, but isn’t quite as strong as the person seated in the front, nor is this person as experienced as the paddler in the back of the canoe. The middle-person is learning about canoeing. As far as propelling the canoe goes, he may not be the most important canoe-er, but he is there.
I’ve been thinking about people in a canoe – in terms of family. In thinking about this, the question is, who is the paddler in the bow? In the stern? In the hull?
Well, it’s obvious to me that children are the paddlers in the hull. They are part of this team, they paddle from time to time, they help, but are not of critical importance…yet. They are training and gaining experience for when they will one day sit at the stern or the bow.
So. That leaves us with the person sitting in the front of the canoe and the person in the back. I’ve been wondering, which one am I?
There are days when I feel like I’m steering this ship. You know what I mean. I remember in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when the mother explains to the daughter:
Even though this is funny, and I admit that I can act somewhat “neck-like” at times (without being manipulative, of course!), I don’t know if I’m the one on the back of the canoe. We don’t always move according to my direction. Maybe I’m actually in front.
I’ll also admit that there are days, many days, when I feel like that I’m in the bow. I’m paddling, paddling, and paddling. I wake up, feed the kids, exercise, start homeschool (which is quite a list in and of itself), feed the kids lunch, keep them from fighting/destroying the house/general chaos, throw a load of laundry in, talk to my husband about the business, take the kids to the library, make dinner, … you get the idea. We all do this.
I’ll say that again. We all do this. As in, not only are mothers paddlers, but fathers are, too. I know that my husband has a billion things going on in his life: he has to paddle, paddle, paddle.
I don’t think I’m steering. I’m not sure if I’m the primary paddler either. But I know that I’m something in this little analogy that I’ve got swirling in my head.
Last night, I was feeling a little frustrated. It was Saturday, I had been looking forward to some time just sitting, breathing, and catching up. But, the whole day flashed before my eyes. Nothing particularly bad happened, but my expectations for the day weren’t quite met, and I needed a little encouragement. A little buoying up.
I was thinking and praying about my frustrations of the day when I realized the solution to my analogy. I’m not steering the ship, nor am I powering it forward. I’m not sitting idly in the hull. I’m not any of the oarsmen.
I’m the canoe.
I bear up my family, support them, stabilize them. My role isn’t particularly glorious, neither is it obscure. I’m simultaneously a part of the action yet partially submerged under water.
Sometimes I feel tired and “waterlogged.” And then the question comes to my mind, who ever really takes time to appreciate the boat? I might spring a leak, which causes panic and maybe even a fair amount of cursing. 😉 Despite everything else that is going right, those paddlers in the boat can only see the one small fissure. Of course, that fissure is letting in water, so I can’t blame them. I just wish they could see how often everything goes right.
This line of thinking isn’t necessarily helpful as it usually leads to further temptation – It’s a temptation for me to imagine life without them for a moment. No burden to bear. No dirty feet, no rocking back and forth. No bickering about who is paddling, about who splashed whom. I’m tempted to think of a life other than carrying my people, their needs, their worries, their weight back and forth – all done without much of a thought of that vessel that carried them.
It’s tempting to imagine life in the middle of a peaceful lake, with me just floating aimlessly.
Yet, the truth is, I am the canoe, and when you see a canoe in the middle of the lake, empty, it’s a problem. Typically, an empty canoe looks like this:
An empty canoe is docked. It’s going nowhere. While it’s not useless, you could say that an empty canoe doesn’t have much of a purpose. A canoe’s purpose comes into play with every person that boards it: Children, spouse, friends, siblings, students, and more. While it can be tiring to bear the weight of these people, I must admit that I’m honored. I don’t mind being partially submerged, stepped on, sat upon. I don’t mind being weighed down and directed. Without them, I’m going nowhere.
And I also know that without me, they aren’t going anywhere, either.
This morning, still a little down, I decided to re-read the talk, Behold Thy Mother, by Jeffery R. Holland, one of the current Twelve Apostles.
Anyone who is familiar with General Conference (A meeting for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where we hear from a living prophet and apostles) knows that there are talks for women or about women/motherhood from time to time. I have to admit that I’ve always liked these talks. They encourage me. They motivate and inspire me.
However, I will admit that I’ve had this sneaking suspicion from time to time – are these talks just “pep talks?” Are they obligatory, “keep the women happy” talks?
This morning, I re-read Elder Holland’s talk, and I was reminded, this isn’t just some pep talk to tide me over until next conference. No. These talks are messages from God. The Lord knows that I am a canoe, and He is grateful for my decision to be this kind of a woman.
Elder Holland taught:
“Bear, borne, carry, deliver. These are powerful, heartening messianic words. They convey help and hope for safe movement from where we are to where we need to be—but cannot get without assistance. These words also connote burden, struggle, and fatigue—words most appropriate in describing the mission of Him who, at unspeakable cost, lifts us up when we have fallen, carries us forward when strength is gone, delivers us safely home when safety seems far beyond our reach. “My Father sent me,” He said, “that I might be lifted up upon the cross; … that as I have been lifted up … even so should men be lifted up … to … me.”
But can you hear in this language another arena of human endeavor in which we use words like bear and borne, carry and lift, labor and deliver? As Jesus said to John while in the very act of Atonement, so He says to us all, ‘Behold thy mother!'” – Jeffrey R. Holland
We women are all “canoes.” I don’t mean only mothers, either. I know other women who have born others up, strengthened them, and even delivered them. I’ve had these types of women in my life. Of course my own mother, I’ve had others, too. Kerri, Stephanie, Kara, Sister Chisholm, Vanessa, Chandra, Donna, Jocelyn, Hillary, Janay, Rachelle, Krista, Niki, Celeste, and sooo many more women. They have helped to bear me up and deliver me along when I’ve needed some support. At times, I’ve been a willing paddler, while they have acted as my canoe.
Elder Holland continues:
“You see, it is not only that they bear us, but they continue bearing with us. It is not only the prenatal carrying but the lifelong carrying that makes mothering such a staggering feat. Of course, there are heartbreaking exceptions, but most mothers know intuitively, instinctively that this is a sacred trust of the highest order. The weight of that realization, especially on young maternal shoulders, can be very daunting.
A wonderful young mother recently wrote to me: “How is it that a human being can love a child so deeply that you willingly give up a major portion of your freedom for it? How can mortal love be so strong that you voluntarily subject yourself to responsibility, vulnerability, anxiety, and heartache and just keep coming back for more of the same? What kind of mortal love can make you feel, once you have a child, that your life is never, ever your own again? Maternal love has to be divine. There is no other explanation for it. What mothers do is an essential element of Christ’s work. Knowing that should be enough to tell us the impact of such love will range between unbearable and transcendent, over and over again, until with the safety and salvation of the very last child on earth, we can [then] say with Jesus, ‘[Father!] I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’” – Jeffrey R. Holland
At first, last night, when I realized I was “the canoe,” I felt a quiet sadness wash over me. I thought of my roles as a woman: as someone who has given herself to her husband and children. Though I have done so willingly, last night I was feeling sorry for myself, wondering when it will be my turn to fulfill my own dreams and chart my own course. When will they support me?
Heavenly Father heard my frustrated prayer, and I was comforted in my heart, but I also felt a confirmation from the Spirit: Yes. You are a canoe. Yes, I’ve made sacrifices, and I will continue to do so. But the Lord would help me to understand more in the future.
As I said, I felt comfort wash over me, even though I was still a bit troubled at the thought of being a canoe. I decided I’d just be patient, go to sleep, and that I’d figure this out later.
This morning, as I read Elder Holland’s talk I felt confirmation of my thought last night. I am indeed a “canoe.” We women, who are choosing to righteously nurture those in our lives – our families, friends, and even strangers – we are canoes. It’s not particularly glamorous, but to the Lord and to the people in that boat it is valuable.
I am the canoe.