THE CHILL OF THE MORNING AIR sent a gentle shiver down my spine as I crawled out of my tent. In the distance I heard the call of a loon welcoming the dawn of another day. An orange hue painted the eastern sky, making the wispy fog over the lake dance like fire.
I followed the well-worn trail from my campsite to the water’s edge to splash the cobwebs from my still-drowsy mind. The shoreline was littered with rocks of many sizes and shapes. As I approached the water a smooth stone caught my gaze. A perfect skipper! In that instant I was no longer a middle-aged man in search of himself, but rather a little boy on his first camping trip.
I gripped the stone carefully and gave a slow practice swing, the anticipation building in my heart, and then I launched that perfect stone as close to parallel to the water as I could. One…two…three…I counted. The fog seemed to magically part as the projectile passed through. Ripples formed ever-widening rings on the once-still surface of the water. With each successive skip my eyes got bigger until the stone skimmed the surface and was swallowed up by the lake.
I stood there for a moment, in an admittedly lame Superman pose, before launching several more rocks in a vain attempt to replicate the epic first. My mind was awash with ideas that this morning distraction had presented me.
Skipping stones can be a metaphor for life.
We Are the Stones
I doubt that any two stones are exactly alike. Over the course of many, many years the elements and mankind conspire to shape each stone individually. Some rocks are big, and some are small. Some rocks are smooth, while others are rough and jagged.
Similarly, life acts upon each of us through our experiences. Successes and failures. Lessons learned and lessons repeated. Unlike the stones, however, we have a choice to make. Every experience can either make us rough and jagged or smooth and polished.
Life is Messy
As anyone who has ever tried skipping stones knows that not all stones skip very well, the smooth stones give you the best chance. The rougher the stone, the bigger the splash it makes when you try to skip it. But even the smooth ones make waves.
Each time a stone touches the water it stirs up ripples. Every action of ours, whether we recognize it or not, affects the lives of other people. The rougher our edges, the more likely we are to affect others in a negative manner; and we create a bigger “splash.”
Life is messy. We all start out pretty rough. Our first impacts on the waters of life tend to make bigger splashes, and seldom send us skipping happily forward. We are sloppy and immature, and we’re somewhat blindly making our way through life. But as we grow and mature, we learn from our mistakes. Some of those rough edges start to smooth over, and our impact becomes less disruptive; the effect we have on others is gentler. We see more clearly the results of our actions. We begin to change our thoughts and behaviors so that we can be a blessing to others. We learn love, and cease living only for ourselves.
With each successive victory, each successive lesson learned, we become more polished. The wisdom gained not only makes a more “positive” impact in life, but also tends to propel us forward to greater experiences and greater victories.
That’s not to say, of course, that a smooth stone never encounters rough water! Even the “perfect” skipping stone can tank with very negative consequences. Rough water and even tiny waves can send that stone to the bottom of the lake in a hurry! Sometimes this is unavoidable. Life is messy; we will always make waves. But we can choose, by our attitudes and actions, if those waves will, generally, be a positive force or a negative one.
The Effects of Time
Each and every skip takes a little bit of power from the stone, but as the power fades the impacts occur closer to each other. Often times it is later in life that we leave our mark, when our positive impacts on the world are more frequent and closely spaced. And much like the stone on the water, as we near the end of our contributions we may find ourselves gliding along the surface, content that we have fulfilled our purpose.
As I write this, I am beginning to understand my purpose. The stone of my life has experienced significant shaping and smoothing. The years spent angry at the world, angry at God, and angry at life in general, have found their rightful place in my past. I’m learning to live with the “peace of God, that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
To be sure, I am far from where I want to be. But I am, at least, not where I was. The days of frequent trips to the bottom of the lake are over. I’m finding as I skip along that every day is a gift, that once unwrapped reveals new heights of joy and wisdom, and new depths of love and understanding.