I’ve been fishing my whole life. Growing up in Alabama, my dad and I would spend summer afternoons at local ponds fishing for largemouth, and weekends fishing off our dock. When we went to the beaches of Florida, we would set up poles in between umbrellas, and if I was lucky, hire guides to take us out for snapper and grouper- I always looked at these sea worn men with envy; they were living my dream.
I am lucky to be close with my dad, so fishing with him is a frequent privilege. Especially when I was younger, this time allowed me opportunity to ask the types of questions curious little boys ask while they try to figure out the world: “Why do people die? How will the world end? What’s heaven like? How hard do I need to set the hook?” Years later and I’m not so little, but just as curious.
Having moved from Alabama to Salt Lake City, I’m unable to discuss these questions with my dad while we fish, but by habit, these types of questions still pop into my head when I’m near water. Since I’ve gotten out here, I’ve been mediating on life’s big questions, and I’ve found the best time for me to try to answer them is while I’m fly fishing for trout. I haven’t figured everything out (I guess I’ll have to fish more), but here’s what I’ve learned so far.
When approaching a spot you suspect to have fish in it, adrenaline will rush through your veins and do everything it can to cloud your judgment. If you let these feelings get the best of you, you will choose to tie on that fly that worked last time, and completely ignore the fact that there are caddis flies swarming around you. In your haste, you’ll get that Fat Albert wrapped around that tree that was just behind you the whole time, and the fish will sit at the bottom of the river and laugh at your ignorance.
And this is how life goes, at least for me. Often times I find myself succumbing with the same sins I have in my past, wondering, “if the Holy Spirit is so powerful, why am I still struggling with this? If God can change me, fix this, or make this easy for me, why hasn’t He?” I end up, out of frustration, trying to tackle my own problems, making them worse, and missing out on a fundamental lesson in the life of a Christian: patience.
Examples of this message are throughout scripture: in 2 Peter, Simon Peter notes: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8) In Romans, the apostle Paul writes: Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)
To surrender your life to the Lord is to surrender control over all things, even your time. This will never be easy, but the Bible promises that it is worth it, and that it’ll catch you the fish.
Fishing around here is different from fishing back home. The action of fly-casting, the relatively small size of the rivers, and the segmented nature of fishing holes often prescribe a sizeable distance between fishermen. This isolation allows me the opportunity to spend restful hours alone, something I normally struggle to do. My favorite quote on this solitude experienced by fisherman is from David James Duncan in his novel The River Why:
“And so I learned what solitude really was. It was raw material - awesome, malleable, older than men or worlds or water. And it was merciless - for it let a man become precisely what he alone made of himself.”
Mathew 14 famously tells the story of Jesus walking on water, and everybody’s heard it, but what few can recall is what he was doing before that moment. Scripture reads: After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone (Mathew 14:23). Further examples are seen throughout scripture and lead to an undeniable conclusion: Jesus spent a lot of time alone.
Being away from other people gives us the opportunity to rest deeply in the Lord’s presence, to pray with our minds unclouded from distractions, and to sometimes find that we are using other people as crutches for our temporary happiness. In these moments of isolation, I find that I am closest to God, and it helps to reorient me to His plans.
The hardest lesson, in life and fly fishing, is beautifully described by Norman Maclean in my favorite book, A River Runs Through It. “All good things- trout as well as eternal salvation- come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.”
Some days I’ll be in the “honey hole”, when the fishing is “white hot”, fishing with the fly that “everyone’s catching them on”, and I’ll hook into a whole pile of nothing. That’s just how fishing is: you can try as hard as you can, but in the end, the fish has to give you what you want.
Our walk with the Lord is no different. We can do every good deed and repent of all our sins, but nothing in this world we can do can restore us to a relationship with our Creator. Only He can do that. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
John Wilson Booth
SLF Class of 17-18
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative