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God Is My Coxswain

News--Boys in the Boat

Musings from a recreational rower amidst the popularity of “The Boys in the Boat”

In a rowing shell, the coxswain (“cox’n” or simply “cox”) is the one who tells you what to do every step of the way—when to put “hands on” to lower the boat off the storage rack, when to heft it onto your shoulders, when to walk forward with it, when to “weigh enough” (stop!), and when to roll the boat down into the water. The coxswain says when to run your oars and when to step into the boat. Once the people in the boat shout “ready!” (meaning they have checked their gear, buckled on their shoes, and are sitting ready to row), the coxswain is the one who tells them when to push off from the dock. The cox then tells the rowers which of them should row, when they should paddle, and when to go full force. In a race, the coxswain tells them how to get to the starting line and makes the calls to get them over the finish line. On a casual rowing day, the coxswain chooses the course and the intensity of the row.

When you learn to row, the first thing you learn is to immediately obey the coxswain’s call. Initially, this seems rather legalistic, militaristic, and maybe a little unnecessary.  But you come to realize that all the rules, all the commands, are for safety and top performance. A rower can trust the coxswain to know more and see more than the rower. In fact, we row facing backwards—the coxswain is the only person in the boat who can see where we are headed and what lies ahead! The cox knows the river, the tides, the oyster beds, and the currents. In case of emergencies—bad weather or “man overboard!”—the coxswain coaches us through it and gets us safely home.

As a Christian, I am doing my best to keep God as my Coxswain. He certainly is trustworthy. He certainly knows the river of life and is the One who can make the best calls for safety and running well this race we call living.

A “crew” of eight rows as one, unlike single scullers who row alone, and when you are all listening to the cox and responding as you’ve trained to do, there’s nothing like it. It’s all joy—the joy of working together to get the boat moving at full capacity, the joy of finishing a race well when you’ve given it your all, the joy of feeling the boat glide through the water with the wind in your hair and and the sun rising and the dolphins playing––it is all the reward of listening to and obeying the voice of the Coxswain.