How Are You Doing on Your Life’s Journey?

by David Tillman – 2018

The metaphor I am drawn to as I think of our life journey is that of a river flowing to the sea. Years ago, I went on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. I remember that each bend in the river brought to my eyes a new rock formation, the sound of the next rapids, and an opportunity for a new experience. The trip was a gift to me after going through a big loss in my life. I went on the trip alone. I meet thirty people from all over the world. They were young and old, singles, couples, and families. They were all adventurers in life. We went over roughly 180 rapids, some mighty drops, and others mere ripples in the river.

Before our adventure, I knew where we would start and where we would finish. I had imagined what the river journey would be like after hearing from a close friend about his experience a few years earlier. It turned out better than my imagination. It was a journey in which all I needed to do was show up and follow the guide’s instructions.

After someone had seen a rattlesnake that first night, I choose to sleep in a tent, instead of sleeping under the Arizona sky. I did see a few rattlesnakes during our adventure. A group of three from California took me under their wings, as did so many others. The vastness of the Grand Canyon rock walls and moving down the cold Colorado River was exhilarating. Relying on the skills of the guides, and the energy of all of us on the journey made the river journey one of my favorite life experiences.

Looking back, it was a very diverse group of people who came together to have this river journey. Afterward, we would then go back to our life’s routine, living with many wonderful memories of our journey together in the Grand Canyon wilderness. After our trip, I kept in touch with a few. That was before social media, so after a few letters back and forth, that was it. I have good memories.

What struck me at the time was the beauty and uniqueness each bend of the river opened up to me. Had I chosen to stay in one place, I would have missed the adventure at the next bend in the river. In Peter Mayer’s song, “God is a River,” his lyrics lift up:

“In the ever-shifting water of the river of this life
I was swimming, seeking comfort; I was wrestling waves to find
A boulder I could cling to, a stone to hold me fast
Where I might let the fretful water of this river ’round me pass

And so I found an anchor, a blessed resting place
A trusty rock I called my savior, for there I would be safe
From the river and its dangers, and I proclaimed my rock divine
And I prayed to it “protect me” and the rock replied


God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids
And a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage
And a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is the river, swimmer
So let go

Still I clung to my rock tightly with conviction in my arms
Never looking at the stream to keep my mind from thoughts of harm
But the river kept on coming, kept on tugging at my legs
Till at last my fingers faltered, and I was swept away

So I’m going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends
Acclimating to the motion, and a sense of being led
And this river’s like my body now, it carries me along
Through the ever-changing scenes and by the rocks that sing this song.” [1]

Peter sings in his song, I am learning to “let go” of the rock I have held on to for dear life as I journey downed the river of my life. The rocks I hold on to have provided me safety, comfort, and support. It has been the times that I let go of the rock and let the river carry me that I have felt the most alive and connected to God, others, and myself. I find, as I age and get closer to reaching the ocean I begin to notice that I am more similar to other people, than being different. Why not let go of the rock that no longer serves you? Trusting that we are loved for who we are.

I have amazing people who have been in my life for years and others who just show up, often just at the right time. We are all preparing to ultimately let go when we take out last breath. As a chaplain, I have been at many people’s bedsides as they have taken their last breath. Each person’s journey is unique. After death, I see a peace in their face that goes beyond understanding. The ultimate act of letting go. Their unique embodied river journey ends and they have joined the ocean. Whatever we chose to call the ocean we are moving towards, I imagine and trust that their loving spirit continues in God’s love and grace.

[1] Peter Mayer, God is a River,, (accessed August 9, 2018).

© David Tillman, 2018,, all rights reserved

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