A small river flows near a mountain cabin where I once lived. The river is called the “Cartecay,” a brutish, phonetic attempt to bring an ancient Cherokee word into the English language. Cartecay’s most likely meaning is, “Valley of Bread.” That is appropriate, as the Cartecay’s rapids wind their way through flat, lush farmland.
At its intersection with my former home, it was possible to traverse the river easily on most days. All one needed was a sturdy walking stick, a fair amount of balance, and the wherewithal to dodge the occasional kayaker – as the water was rarely above one’s waist. But let the Appalachian rains set in, and the crossing became impossible.
On a cold, December day a few years ago, I watched the usually gurgling Cartecay become a swift, unstoppable torrent some twelve feet out of its banks. The kayaks were replaced by entire tree trunks, collapsed sections of hay barns and fence rows, and wreckage from homes that had calved away into the swollen river.
To have entered the water on that day would have meant certain drowning, or to have been smashed by the endless debris tumbling through the river-soaked valley. All one could do – even those who had built a home on the Cartecay’s banks – was to withdraw, watch, and wait for the waters to recede.
A similar river runs through my mind. On most days it is small, quiet, and listless. I can stand in its “flow” with hardly any effort at all. On other days it is an irrepressible cascade. This river – like the one in your own mind – is made of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and intuitions. Quoting the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, “God will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast.”
While my mind is routinely “steadfast,” when it’s not – it’s really not. It’s a banks-bursting, flood-stage-breaking surge. It’s then I have to remember that I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. I am not what is going on inside of me – no more than I am the river that runs through the verdant valley.
Yes, I can enter that flow, get overwhelmed in that river, even swept away by it at times. But that’s not the only choice I have. Paul the Apostle gave us a better way when he said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Paul went on to describe how Jesus “emptied himself.” He let everything flow and go, relinquishing his grip on the emotions and ambitions that would only swamp him, washing away his life of love, mission, and service.
“Going with the flow” is usually good counsel, but when the flow becomes too much, our thoughts and emotions too destructive – and we will all have such rainy seasons – we have to let the flow go without us. We withdraw, watch, and wait for it all to recede from flood stage. Recede, it will. Until then, we pull away to higher, safer, ground.