I was on the rowing team in college – such a great sport. I can’t stand it when people overuse the word “quintessential,” but rowing is the quintessential team sport – quintessentially.
If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, you sit in a boat slightly wider than your hips, with seven other oarsmen and a coxswain. It’s a round-bottomed shell, which means the boat is designed to tip over at any moment and dump you in the water. The only way to avoid that is to be in sync with everyone else in the boat.
There are a hundred things that a rower can do during each stroke to throw the whole boat out of whack. Rowing with the boat listing to port the whole time or getting soaked by the oar splash of the guys in front of you is infuriating. The challenge is to do everything right in your stroke, every time, right along with everyone else, while making tiny adjustments as you row to compensate for other people’s mistakes. Bring in the oar handle three-quarters of an inch higher on this stroke, tighten your left butt cheek to balance the boat slightly to starboard on the next stroke, relax your right shoulder and raise your oar blade on the next. Do it all without speaking while pulling with all your might, just like the rest of the guys.
It’s wonderful when you get it right. The incredible pain of rowing doesn’t disappear, but it slides to the back of your mind, while the front of your mind is overwhelmed by the awe of gliding along in perfect unison with your teammates. You row harder, and try to make your perfect stroke more perfect because you don’t want to throw anything off. You just want to enjoy this feeling with your team for as long as you all can endure.
This is what I loved about rowing. Being on a team, working together, being connected. I think about that in my walk with God as well. I am most alive in Christ when I am connected to others. That’s why I play on a basketball team, and a soccer team, and (coming up in June) a softball team. It’s why my wife and I are in a community group, and why I go to Men’s Bible Study every Thursday morning. These are opportunities for me to be with others and love them. That’s the meat and potatoes of my faith. Jesus is a team sport. We aren’t meant to follow Him alone.
There were times when my coach made me go out in a scull, a one-man boat. You have to really focus on your own technique with you’re on your own in a scull. It’s an opportunity to study and I hated it – all the pain of rowing with none of the team aspect that I loved. (There’s probably a correlation to that in my walk with Jesus, but I’m not good at it, so I don’t want to write about that right now.)