Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Allegory of the Waterski

Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a lot like learning to water ski.  It seems to me that many people understand some of the basics principles, but they never really "pop out of the water".  And many people tend to live in a half-committed way their entire lives. 

I've been thinking about water skiing, as I recently went with my brother's family.  My brother and his wife are quite formidable skiers, and I felt like I had to represent myself well, or I might be kicked out of the family.  Here's a picture of Adam cutting - so you get the idea...

When a person learns to slalom ski, one of the most difficult maneuvers is getting up.  The boat and the skier have to both be in sync.  I've been thinking of the two parts a lot and how they relate to the gospel.  Let me see if I can paint an appropriate picture...
  1. The skier is in the water.  The boat circles around to bring the rope, and then waits in neutral.  Nothing interesting is happening here except the skier is usually freezing, and the flagger is typically bored.
  2. The boat is put into gear, and tension is on the line.  The skier aligns his body and ski to the direction the boat pulls.  He prepares himself for pulling up by balancing himself, keeping his weight back and his center of gravity low to the ski.  
  3. The skier yells, "hit it!" and the driver punches the throttle.  The skier is pulled forward and has to fight to keep his ski in front of him - waiting out the time it takes him to plane out on top of the water.  This is the most difficult part. 
  4. Finally planed out, the boat driver slows the boat back to the desired speed, the skier stands upright on the ski, fixes his shorts and begins to signal back to the driver whether or  not the speed is ok, etc.
  5. Once the skier is up and the speed is established, the driver and others in the boat signal to the skier about upcoming waves and turns.  Meanwhile the skier takes opportunity to cut back and forth when the water is smooth.  Someone loud is usually taking pictures.
That's about it for a successful attempt to get up.  An unsuccessful one involves a lot more humiliation, wasted fuel, and shoddy advice.  But for this analogy, we're focusing on the successful attempt.  The boat represents the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  The skier represents each of us. 

Let's talk about the first stage - floating.  In the great lake of life, many people are just floating around.  The rope is continually being brought to them, yet they don't seem to know what to do about it.  Some hold on, and as soon as the boat is in gear, they let go, or they get dragged in a ridiculous manner with the ski stretched out behind them.  To them, religion just doesn't make any sense - they have no real interest in it.  These people are either content to float, or they're too easily discouraged and they're unable to align themselves with the Lord.  Occasionally they wonder what they're doing here with a life jacket and ski - but eventually they'll stop wondering - chalking the uniqueness of the state to Paley's watch argument or some other theoretical rubbish (Hugh Nibley gives an interesting analysis of the argument <-- an="" enjoy="" intelligent="" link="" nbsp="" p="" person="" this="" will="">
I like the differences between stages two and three.  It seems to me when the Lord tries to teach us something, or when we're due to enter the next phase of life - He trolls us for a while.  He only puts the boat in gear.  So we feel a slight pull in our lives - in one particular direction.  But, being the good boat-driver that He is, He waits for us to align ourselves before he pulls faster.  Sometimes we never align - and we get stuck in the trolling stage of living the gospel our whole lives.  Notice that we have to align ourselves before we can say "hit it" in a way that will yield a response.  Some are unbalance and skewed when they yell, and then they wonder why there was no response from the boat. 

Then there are those who are consciously attempting to follow the Lord.  They're the ones who line up with the boat and yell "hit it".  Some will succeed in planing out, but most don't - especially when they're new to skiing.  This is the real test of the trial - it's not the slight pull.  The Lord uses that slight pull to simply get our attention.  Once we're committed, He begins the real test.  And many have the rope ripped right out of their hands at this point.  Too many don't stabilize themselves enough to follow the Lord at the pace He requires. 

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is their level of patience.  While in the second stage, they feel like "this isn't so hard - I can handle this".  They don't feel like they need any significant life change - thinking that the 1-2 mph drag they're experiencing is the full effect.  So they commit.  Maybe they got baptized.  Maybe they go to the temple for the first time.  Perhaps they've accepted lessons from the missionaries.  Or maybe they're like me and they're finally getting their heads around the idea of dating and marriage.  Whatever phase of life we're on - there's a difference between testing the water and jumping in - the difference between trolling behind a boat and holding on for dear life after vocally committing to the Lord.  Some feel that the boat pulls too fast - forgetting that they're not the ones in control of the throttle.  They can only decide to align, balance, commit, and wait out the process that changes them from a fish to a skier. 

Those in the fourth stage begin to have confidence before the Lord.  They discover the importance of staying in constant communication with Him, and they look to Him for any upcoming changes (choppy water, turns, obstacles, etc).  These are those who are committed, and they're keeping their covenants.  They're enjoying the ride, and they're at peace.  They've discovered an appropriate relationship with the Lord.  They know their place - and they rely on the boat to get them through. 

Finally, there are those who are constantly improving their talents - those who cut hard.  They're the ones who have the most fun throughout life.  Their experiences are hard, and the water isn't always smooth - but their joys are the deepest, and their rewards are the most valuable.  They inspire others everywhere they go - regardless of what stage the others are on.  Joseph Smith said "the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments".  The driver can feel the skier cutting - as it pulls on the boat pretty hard at this stage.  The driver doesn't need to check up on the skier as much here as he does for the person who only reaches the fourth stage.  He can feel where they're at and what they're doing.  The driver knows he can steer the boat wherever he wants, and the skier will perform admirably.  Think of the Lord's Apostles or any of His modern disciples.  He can plop them anywhere on the earth, and they'll do His work well.  Trust between the Lord and his disciples is solidified at this level. 

The final analogy from this waterskiing allegory is getting back in the boat.  You see - whatever stage a person reaches is proportional to their joy.  A person who nearly pulls up grins a little bigger than his friend who didn't manage to get that far.  And a person who reaches the fourth or fifth stage seems to enter the boat cloaked in respect.  Not only is the joy the richest during the ride, but when the skier returns to the boat, his joy is full if he performed to his full ability. 

Whichever stage you're currently at - remember the driver is patient and the boat always has enough power to get us through.  We'll fall when trying to pull up.  We'll struggle to cut.  We'll get swallowed by the choppiness of the waves at times.  But if we align ourselves to the Lord again, balance our lives so we can focus on Him, and have patience as we learn to pull up, we'll eventually reach the point where we perform more admirably.  We'll have that peace that comes in this life and in the world to come - fullness of joy on the ski and when returning to the boat.  D&C 59:23


mammasweet said...

Now, that's an analogy I can really wrap my mind around. Who, though, is the person who persuades, threatens, pushes you to try the ski to start with?

mommaquincy said...

Wow! That was really profound! Can I use this at our family reunion?