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My dad loved to be on a boat.

He’d whip us around the lake in a speedboat while we clung for dear life to the tube he was towing. He would practice doing rolls in his kayak, somersaulting into and out of the surface of the water while I watched in horror, sure he would get stuck upside-down and drown. In kindergarten, I’d cry “Don’t go bumpity bumpity!” when my dad started to speed the boat up, worried the waves would knock us all into the drink. 

My dad loved boats, but frankly they’ve always scared me. I can’t get past the fear of what happens if you fall out.

There’s an old story about my dad as a teenager taking his Sunfish out on a hot day. He jumped out of the boat to take a quick swim, but then the wind picked up and the sail filled. He spent the rest of the afternoon (as the story goes) swimming after it, trying to catch up, as each gust of wind kept it just barely out of his reach. 

I love that story, because my dad was a remarkably capable guy. He was great at most things — swimming, whistling, listening. After he died two decades ago, people started to talk about him in those canonizing ways you talk about dead people. He was the best person. A trusted leader. An all around great friend. That’s probably why I just love picturing him flailing around that lake. Utterly, frustratingly, repeatedly… missing the boat. In this story at least, he’s just a regular guy.  He’s nobody’s hero.

My faith has changed a lot this year, in lots of ways. Maybe I fell off the boat. Maybe I jumped; I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m no hero, either. The striving, the chasing, the sheer will it would take to get back on the boat — to go back to the way I used to understand God and myself and the world — is simply not within me.

Martin Laird, in a beautiful book about contemplative prayer called Into the Silent Land, wrote something that helps me find peace in this new landscape that I’m still making sense of. He says, “Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent.”

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I really don’t have much control in this life. Nothing has felt more like a School of Powerlessness than watching the whole world, me included, try to navigate a situation so utterly unknown. The God who brought comfort to me, the God who drew very near during this last year, has not been the God of “try harder.” Not a God who needs me to swim just a little faster than what I find my body can muster. Not the God who’s ever out of my reach.

Maybe I was wrong, all this time, to fear what would happen if I fell out of the boat. Maybe the love that formed the universe, the love that sustains us and enfolds us, was never in the boat at all.

Maybe God is the water. And whether we’re swimming or drowning, whether it’s smooth sailing or we’re being tossed about, by sheer grace we are ever-enveloped in the presence of this God. A God who is wild, a God who is everywhere, a God who cannot be controlled.

I’ve come to believe that God need not be chased. Because God is already here.

Photo by Austin Tiffany on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Keith Mannes says:

    Beautifully done. Meaningful description of what it’s like to spiritually navigate this moment. Thank-you.

  • Susan DeYoung says:

    Dear Kate. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for the comforting reminder that God doesn’t need to be chased. I think there quite a few of us in the water with you.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thanks Kate,
    Your blog reminded me of a David Crowder Band song called “Oh How He Love”, that tugs at my heart. Here are the words of the third verse and chorus:
    And we are His portion and He is our prize
    Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
    If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
    And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
    And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
    I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
    When I think about, the way…
    That He loves us
    Oh how He loves us
    Oh how He loves us
    Oh how He loves

    The we are all sinking line has always intrigued me, scared me a bit, and given me hope. This past year has felt a bit like sinking, and I can’t help but feel the same response. I’m not in control. God is present. I spend a lot of time “chasing the boat” too, and maybe I don’t have to.
    Again, thanks Kate

  • Karen Bables says:

    Thanks for giving us this: “Maybe God is the water.” If we have to chase our boat, it’s important to know that our boat is already in the water – the place where God is. I’m blogger with generally an entirely different audience than yours. I’m going to share this concept with them (with credit, of course, to you and Martin Laird.

  • Robert Van Es says:

    Thanks Kate. That was just right today.

  • Dana VanderLugt says:

    Thank you. I needed this today. And most days lately. Also flailing around the lake.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    “A God who is wild, a God who is everywhere, a God who cannot be controlled.” Yes, our conceit is that we thought we could tame God, control where God is and what God does & says. The Spirit blows where it wills

  • Mary Dracht says:

    “The striving, the chasing, the sheer will it would take to get back on the boat – to go back to the way I used to understand God and myself and the world- is simply not within me. “
    Thank you for this Kate! You are not alone.

  • Mark Kraai says:

    Kate, had I read your piece earlier, I’d have changed my lectuary reading for Sunday.
    It’s Jesus calming the storm, a fitting message for today.

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