The first week of school, during my freshman year of college at UCI, I saw a sign in the bathroom saying, “Looking for 5’8 Athletic Women.” As I was staring at it, I was like, “I’m 5’8. I’m athletic.” And the BEST part, I didn’t have to try out. As the sign read, the coaches would train us. I had no prior knowledge of rowing. But the fact is, I didn’t have to try out, it was a NCAA sport AND I would get priority registration.
Rowing. I love this sport. The observer watching the synchronization of a unified group of rowers, fails to see the depth of detail to the unity, as the rowers make it look effortless. I sat amongst 8 other women in the 65 foot rowing shell, listening to our coxswain calling out orders. Sitting at the stern, the coxswain saw everything going on in the boat. It is their job to make sure the boat is moving together as one. There are different roles in the boat. The stern pair, seats 8 and 7, set the pace and the rhythm of the boat. They have to be quick at the catch, otherwise the boat just feels heavy. Everyone follows their lead. 7 seat has to match 8 seat perfectly in order to provide a rhythm everyone can follow. 6 seat and 5 seat are the powerhouse seats. The strength is often found here. 4 seat and 3 seat sometimes get forgotten, however they continue the rhythm as they follow the person who sits exactly in front of them. And then 2 seat and bow, set the boat’s balance. Everyone has a role. I stared at a back for 4 years straight, following the rhythm of the person in front of me, trying to match them perfectly. If you try to do your own thing, you mess up the rhythm. If you place your oar in the water before everyone else and you are not stroke seat, you slow down the boat. If your catch is too late, you slow down the boat. If you don’t listen to the coxswain, you slow down the boat. If you get tired, you make the boat heavier for everyone else. You can’t quit, though. Everyone in the boat is relying on you. There are no subs in a race. It’s all you.
Rowing is a weight to strength ratio sport. I got weighed-in more in college than any other time in my life, and I worked in a gym setting. We would take a rowing test and then we would get weighed-in. The coaches would rank us and this showed whether we were pulling our weight in the boat. No big deal.
But there was this one race my novice (freshman) year. Berg Cup. As novice rowers, we had no idea what we were doing. We literally had just learned how to row. But our coxswain, she had experience. So we listened to everything she said. At the starting line, our boat was right next to UCLA, then there was USD, Long Beach, and Chapman. Our race course was in the Newport Back Bay, in between Lido Island and PCH. The race course is 2,000 meters. We heard the announcer say, “Please approach the line. We have alignment. Ready… GO!” And then we were off. We would do a 7 stroke start, to lift the boat quickly up and out of the water and then we would take 15 strokes at a really fast pace, and then settle into a rhythm that was sustainable. I was so nervous before the race, I kept repeating Philippians 4:13 over and over in my head, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It was the only thing that would calm my nerves. The adrenaline rush at the start was huge.
When we started the race our boat was going, but we were so calm; we weren’t freaking out that we were in FOURTH PLACE. Hello! We were just going like we were on a Sunday stroll. We were in last place. But no one was stressing out. UCLA was a boat length ahead of us. As we approached the 1200 meter mark, where the crowd stood at OCC’s Boathouse, our coxswain made a call. She wanted 20 strokes as hard as we could. Now, my parents were standing at that boathouse and they took a picture. We were dead last at this point. But in 20 strokes we walked through Long Beach and USD and moved on UCLA. We freaked UCLA out. They started to panic as we moved on them. When people freak out, they naturally lose their strong rhythm and flow. Some get spastic in their movements, which actually slows them down in the long run. You train for these moments. The key is to remain calm under pressure; stepping it up powerfully when you feel the competition breathing down your neck. You have to keep following the person in front of you; however, when people panic they tend to create their own rhythm. They may be 5 seat, but because they are freaking out they step up the pace, making the boat disjointed as they fail to follow the person who is actually leading the boat.
UCLA is really good. Normally, we would start our sprint with 250 meters to go; we would pick up our stroke rating (normally to 36 strokes per minute), and go as hard as we could. But our coxswain knew we had to start our sprint early. We absolutely trusted our coxswain and her calls. We did exactly what she told us to do. We started our sprint with 500 meters to go, and continued moving on UCLA. We were neck and neck, just going as hard as we could. The finish line was coming, our coxswain told us to pick it up again and as a team together, we stepped it up and beat UCLA by less than a seat.
As I look at Psalm 133 right now that is what I see. Unity.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”
True unity— when you look at a group of people you see one anointing. It looks effortless from the outside, but how often do we miss seeing the depth of detail that comes with getting people to work together. It’s not easy. It takes submission to the Head, which is Jesus Christ. We are all on the same team, but we have different positions. There is a role for everyone. But there is one leader. Sometimes people don’t like their roles. Some feel forgotten. But everyone in the church has a part to play. Every person in a family has a part to play. Every role is important. God has given everyone gifts to edify the saints and build up the church- Ephesians 4, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12. In order to have true unity, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit— Ephesians 5:18. People need to recognize their gift and role, and work together. Interpersonal issues always arise, but this life is not about us. Do you trust God so much so that when He says, “Step it up for Me!” You step it up instantly? As Corrie ten Boom says, “Obedience is easy when you know you are being guided by a God who never makes mistakes.” Today, do you absolutely trust your leader? The leader God placed over you. Like when I rowed, we absolutely trusted our coxswain to make the right call. When she made a call, we listened, and we won. Trust is huge; you will not have true unity without trust. True unity is a group of Christians trusting God together. I’m reminded of a quote by Oswald Chambers, “When the heart sees what God wants, the body must be willing to spend and be spent for that cause alone.” God wants unity- Ephesians 4:13.
Will you pray with me?
Abba! Thank You for this beautiful day. Lord, thank You for moving so profoundly in our lives. You are moving in the world right now, reaching the lost with the gospel. Please use us for Your glory. As You search the hearts of Your people, as you look at the family and at Your churches, Lord please speak to hearts about true unity. Would we recognize the impact a unified church has on a lost world? Would we recognize the impact a unified husband and wife has on all those around them? Would we see the impact of a unified family that is submitted to You in everything they do? Praying for unity in the church and unity in marriages and families today. Thank You Lord for healing what has been broken. Thank You for stepping in at the perfect moment. We see what You want Lord, would our bodies be willing to spend and be spent for that cause You have burdened our hearts with. Lord, for those struggling, encourage them to not give up praying. It’s not over until it’s over. We love you so much! In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.