So, my vision of culture as a river is not one that was impressed upon me since we moved overseas. For the last few years, life has been teaching me that our own cultures are powerful rivers, moving people along in one general direction. And choosing to make decisions that flow counter to your river is very difficult. It requires a lot of intentionality, persistence, and courage.
For the most part, life on the Canadian river is supposed to look like this:
*have a childhood full of school work, bike rides, and extra-curricular activities
*graduate from high school and then go get some more education
*find a job
*buy a house
*buy a bigger house
*be sure your kids are starting their own river journey in proper fashion
*work to pay off the house
*retire and maybe go on a cruise
*go on more vacations until you die
(Please note, on the Canadian river, the order of points 3-6 may be shuffled and still be considered acceptable.)
You won’t find this in a manual, but I believe it’s the unspoken and expected life path of the people on my river. Some may argue that this is not expected of everyone, but if you’ve ever skipped one of these steps you realize the expectation is real. If you don’t get married in your mid-late 20’s, you start to feel like you’re going against the flow. If you don’t buy a house, or plan to buy a house, you’re veering off the path. If you don’t have kids by your mid-30’s, you start to feel you’ve missed the boat. If you live in a small house as you approach 40, without plans to upgrade, you feel the flow of culture asking you why. If you deviate in any way from the norm, people are baffled by your refusal to go with the flow. Maybe you choose to homeschool instead of sending your kids to traditional school and people speak up about what your kids are missing. You choose to pursue an artistic passion or a non-traditional job and people warn you of the danger. You have kids before you buy a house and people gasp and wonder where you’ll put the children. You have bigger dreams for your life than mortgage payments, and people assure you that there is no alternative path.
The expectation from our people is real. And the flow is powerful. And I’m telling you, if you want to go down a smaller arm of the river, you have to be intentional and paddle at it with all your might, in spite of the cries from others to stay mainstream.
Now here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with living the expected life on the Canadian river. Please don’t hear me criticizing it, because I lived it and I often loved it, until recently. I think it is a beautiful choice, with plenty of amazing and unique experiences filled in between each of those expected lines. What I am saying is that many people live their lives this way, without ever asking if it’s what they want, if it’s what is best, or if it’s what God has called them to. And what’s worse is that some have come to see that this way is not ideal for them, but they assume they’re trapped on this river. They may even know the scary step they need to take to start changing direction, but they don’t take it for a whole host of reasons. They may say:
“This would be too hard on my family.”
“It’s not a good time because of my health.”
“It wouldn’t be wise, financially.”
Those are excuses they may say out loud, but these are some of the real reasons that lie beneath the surface:
“I don’t want my life to be too difficult.”
“I’m not sure I’m capable.”
“My comfortable lifestyle is more important to me than listening to God’s promptings.”
“I don’t want people to think I’m weird.”
“I’m scared of the unfamiliar.”
“It’s easier to stick with what everyone on my river does.”
“I don’t want to disappoint others.”
“I don’t trust God.”
The rivers we ride on are powerful. And choosing to move against the flow churns up a lot of fear and doubt. But if you have any inkling that something in your life needs to change or a sense that God is calling you to something different, please at least consider an alternative. Consider what a change would look like, what it would require, and how it might free you for a higher purpose. And then sit with it for a bit, because you may be surprised to find that the costs start to seem small in the face of the possible payoffs. God may start to plant a vision in your heart, and you will realize that pursuing that vision is worth all you have.
Now, I must warn you, three years ago we decided to look behind the vines along the main path and simply consider an alternative choice, and here we sit, multiple alternative choices later in a new country with a radically different life. That might not be how it turns out for you, but whatever happens, I pray that you would find the same satisfaction, transformation, and gratitude that we have found from paddling against the current on our river.