Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Its a high adrenalin activity where you jump in an inflatable raft and hurtle down a river. The whitewater or rough patches of water come where high current waters hit rocks, obstacles and banks and, when combined with significant drops, they make navigation quite difficult. It’s considered an extreme sport.
When you make the decision to pay someone to let you risk your life in this fashion, you are given a guide or a navigator. He or she gives you the basic instructions and lets you know the directions they’ll be shouting at you as they try and get you to the end of the river run in one piece.
A friend and I had this experience in New Zealand a few years back. The water was freezing and the terror real in amongst the patches of smooth water where we floated merrily along and were able to take in the stunning views and peaceful surrounds.
I think in life as in whitewater rafting the role of navigator or guide is crucial. But I think in life, we are much less attuned to our need to have one or be one – in whitewater rafting there’s a sense your life depends on the guide – you’re listening and responsive!
Parents, mentors, teachers, leaders and anyone older or more experienced than ourselves can be as life impacting as a navigator guiding us down a dangerous river.
“Up ahead there is a sharp drop and then the current will want to pull us left … When you hear me call it, we’re going to want all of us at the back of the raft and then we’re going to be ready to paddle out.” The navigator has been down this river before. The navigator has tried or seen different ways to handle this potential danger spot and has some tips on how to get through it most safely. The navigator knows and embraces their role to keep all participants safe while also letting them have an exciting adventure.
There is nothing that we encounter on the ‘river’ of life that others haven’t seen or experienced before us. What a tragedy it is as adults to watch young people fall into the same traps, be surprised by the same big drops or to be so furiously paddling through smooth waters they don’t take time to enjoy them.
We need to embrace our role as navigators for anyone who would come behind us. Yes, there is a need for people to sometimes learn through experience of failure or error but to let others fly head long into what we know to be dangerous or damaging without at least giving a shout out is neglectful and, well, mean.
We need to nurture relationships that position us to be influential voices in another’s life. I feel like my greatest success in this area has come through honest sharing of my failures and wounding. I once had a young person say of a particular part of their journey that was similar to mine “I just want to make sure I don’t do what you did” – it stung a little, but ultimately? I don’t want them to do what I did either.
We need to invite the navigator to speak into our lives and circumstances. We need to embrace with humility the learning and wisdom others can impart from their journey.