How a Mighty River is Stopped

There are a few things in life that continually astound me. One of them is something that those who grew up in Michigan find to be utterly ordinary: rivers that freeze in the winter time. To me, it’s mind-boggling. How does something continually in motion, let alone the force of a mighty river, find itself brought to a dead stop. Of course I get that water freezes at temperatures below 32°F, but I’m continually amazed that a moving, even rushing river can eventually grind to a halt.

Lfrozen-riverike everything in the natural world, there’s a simple reason for it. And it begins when small parts of that great volume of moving water begin to freeze. Then those small parts grow into even larger parts which eventually join together. Before you know it, you have a frozen river. Besides being an astounding aspect of nature, I believe there’s a hugely important spiritual lesson in this.

Last Sunday, I began a series of sermons on Five Habits for the New Year. I’ll be laying out five basic things we all need to be doing if we expect to live good, healthy, spiritual lives. They are definitely beginner-type things, but also things that many of us struggle with long after we’re beginners in the Faith (if you missed it Sunday, you can hear the first one by clicking here).

My experience is that most people—myself included—continue to struggle with some basic things, but NOT because there isn’t the desire to change. We want to change. But here’s the problem: if we’re really honest with ourselves, we think we just can’t change. Desire to change? Sure! Ability to change? We have our doubts.

But that’s where that mighty river being frozen to a standstill comes into play. It could never go from free-flowing to a frozen stop. It happens one drop at a time, as a drop of water in water becomes a sliver of ice in water. And then another. And then another. When that happens enough times, you get a frozen river.

Too often we see a goal we have, and it looks like it’s just too big a change for us to realistically make. We can’t imagine stopping the flow of a bad habit that perhaps we’ve had our whole lives. But just as a river only freezes bit by bit, we don’t need to start by making a permanent change, but rather just one change, done one time. And then hopefully repeat it. And then repeat it again. On Sunday, I suggested in the first of Five Habits for the New Year that if we’re going to make changes in our lives, we need the gift of Confession as the tool to make those changes. But even if we’ve rarely or even never been to Confession, beginning to do so doesn’t mean committing to going on a regular basis. It means going once. And then later on, hopefully going again. And then another time after that. That’s not only a more likely way to make changes, it’s the only way to stop the flow of a mighty river.

Thanks be to God, Who gives us the freedom to make big changes, and the ability to make them by one small change. Followed by repeating it. And then doing it again. Before we know it, what looked like the impossible is now real. As real–and as seemingly impossible–as a mighty river, now brought to a frozen halt.