Thriving, means to grow strong and vigorous, or to prosper. I prefer the meaning of the The Old Norse word for thrive, thrīfask, meaning to grasp for oneself. This speaks of digging deep down into the core of our hearts and souls, beyond our world-numbed selves, to bring forth our truest, most Godly personhood. It means trusting in God who gives us the true power to thrive.
In the poetry of the Psalms, we read metaphors of people trusting in God who thrive like flourishing plants:
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers.”
Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut,
they wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God;
so perishes the hope of the godless.
What they trust in is fragile;
what they rely on is a spider’s web.
They lean on the web, but it gives way;
they cling to it, but it does not hold.
When temptations of the world, and life’s challenges and uncertainties come like squalls on the horizon, rocking our boats, uprooting our faith, throwing roofs off stability, shaking our trust in God, what then? Can we thrive?
In my early career working for the ABC News, I went with a group of colleagues to escape the icy, bitter cold winter in New York City, to sail the Great Exuma Islands. Two days into our sailing vacation, our captain, a well-known television personality, also known as a fearless adventurer, signed us on for popular island sailing race.
The only problem, as we waited on the docked boat for the race to begin – a charcoal colored shelf of clouds threatened with a brutish stance on the horizon. A warm blustery, tropical wind blew off our hats, exhaling a sudden salty, gush. It seemed a warning. An unsettled, impatient sea beneath us rocked us back and forth with force. I wondered if our 42-foot sail boat could weather a storm, if the captain could navigate rough seas.
We got word from the dock master we’d surely hit a squall heading our way. He gave us the choice to opt out of the race, but our captain, daring-gung-ho-TV adventurer, cheered us to go on. The crew sang out, “yeah, let’s do it!” Whether a coincidence or godsend, former America’s Cup winner, Dennis Conner, happened to be in small row boat rocking next to us at the dock, offering our captain a few expert tactics to maneuver the squall.
Young and naïve, I never considered we could actually die within the hour.
As the horn sounded, the sails of our boat breathed in a brisk wind which pushed us out to sea without effort.
Soon, the dock house, only a tiny speck, stood muted on the dock. Our majestic ship tipped on it’s edge, skating with pride like a mighty warrior across the great, dark and shining sea.
As the sky grew darker, large patches of black clouds climbed toward us like monsters. The wind kicked in several knots. We flew on our edge, drenched by rising swells splashing over us like great whales. Cans, jars, and fixtures fell off shelves, crashing below deck.
When a black, thick, swirling water spout emerged from the horizon like a bold dancer spinning onto the stage, the wind kicked in again with a wicked breath, the boat thrusting forward like a torpedo against the thickening waves, like a courageous jaguar lurching toward it’s prey. The relentless squall pushed harder toward us until it engulfed us it’s swirling madness. Each crew member plunged into an impulsive, critical task. Seeing the main sail was caught on a wire, holding onto a rope, I crawled out onto the bow, wrapping my arm around the mast to secure my hold. Now the boat sailed high on it’s edge. We tipped close to ninety degrees, my body hanging parallel, face to face with the mighty ocean.
With slow, methodical maneuvering, I was able to break the main sail free from a tangled mess. With a great bellowing exhale, the boat plunged forward with confidence. My team, their faces and movements terrified and animated, motioned me from the cockpit to crawl down from the bow. Their soundless words cried out, “Get in, get in!” A massive hovering wave crashed down upon us, a torrential warning.
My arm still locked secure around the mast became my stable base. everything else moving as if in slow motion. Their lagging expressions, the growling wind, the rising, rugged waters, all seemed a symphony, a deliberate harmony. Rollicking minutes rolling by seemed like hours. I wasn’t sure if rushing adrenaline, or shock, made me so fearless.
And then, the wind stopped short.
Stunned to find ourselves alive, we sat for several moments, engulfed in an eerie quiet. The great wide darkness of the ocean’s silence wrapped it’s arms around us. Patches of light shined through patches of dark, tired clouds. I saw land ahead, the finish line near.
Miracles happen in thin places. As we sailed toward the finishing line, a double rainbow beamed across the sky. The clouds descended as the blazing sun and blue sky peered from a secret, peaceful haven.
We came in second place.
Looking back, what I know about that day was the absolute sense of being held by the great wide arms of God. By grasping onto an untapped faith within my deepest self, fearlessness reigned. Without it, I would have been terrified.
To thrive means to forge ahead into our foggy futures, weathering life’s challenges, and navigating winds of change, with God at the helm. It means wrapping our arms around the mast of faith, while God helps us work out our tangled messes. It means being an integral part of a crew, of a fellowship of God loving friends, those who help us ride the winds of truth.
And so,with God, we thrive. With God, we are always winners.
Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.