Because we know that God rules over all the earth, that He has final authority, and that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him, it is easy for us to become complacent in our faith. It's easy for us to jump in and then let ourselves just float wherever God's Spirit happens to take us, letting life simply be and believing that it's really just a lazy river.
But we know from our lived experience that this is not the way things truly work. Even science confirms this, having long documented that things in creation that are left to themselves, from the smallest atoms to the greatest oceans, tend not toward order and peace but toward chaos and destruction.
Were it not for the Lord holding creation together in His hand, it would fall apart.
And that means that living this life, the life that God intended for us, takes something more than just floating along. It takes something more than just letting things be. It takes something more than just letting ourselves end up wherever we end up, crashing up onto the banks of this place or that from time to time and calling it God's Will or whatever else it is we say to justify it.
The truth is that if we want to capture the essence of what God has for us in creation, we must take a lesson from the salmon and recognize this essential truth: that life happens upstream.
The salmon spends a lot of its life exploring downstream. It spends a lot of its life floating along, swimming with the current, pursuing and catching and enjoying the food that it needs to nourish itself. But as long as it does this, it can only ever sustain its own fleeting life. As long as it goes with the flow, the only salmon that has a chance is this one.
When mating season comes, when it's time to bring up the next generation of salmon, when it's time to pass on life to a new being, the salmon does something counterintuitive: it swims upstream. In leaps and bounds and jumping out of the water, against all odds and eddies, against the natural flow of all things, the salmon begins going back upstream to spawn.
It seems like a lot of hard work, a lot of unnecessary work. It seems even tragic, for salmon die after spawning. Not from the act itself or from some kind of short life span, but because the sheer effort of moving upstream so far for so long exhausts and malnourishes them to the point of death. Their last act on earth, if they make it at all, is to lay their eggs, to gift a new generation into the stream so that the whole thing can happen all over again.
Why would they do this? Why would they put so much effort into swimming upstream only to die, when it seems easier and maybe even better to just lay their eggs where they are and move on?
Simple. They understand their very nature.
Salmon understand that if it's up to them, they'll just go with the flow. They'll just float along, taking life as it comes, not exerting a lot of effort. They'll eat as their food travels with them, crashing up onto the banks from time to time. But the fundamental truth of this is that if they flow downstream for long enough, they will come to a river so big and an ocean so wide that it cannot possible nourish or sustain them. They'll be far from home and will have lost everything that's meaningful and vital for them, and it will be too late to do anything about it.
The next generation has to start upstream. It has to begin in a place that has room for movement, room for travel, room for the next salmon to be as salmon will be. They have to start in a place that gives them room to flow. And so, the salmon put it all on the line to make sure it takes.
Life happens upstream.
This is an important lesson for us, especially for those of us who are prone to let life just flow, to just float along, and to let ourselves wash up here or there for a season. It may be good and easy and comfortable, but the only life we can ever nourish this way is our own. The only person who benefits from this kind of living...is us. If we want to be a people who leave a legacy of life, we have to learn to swim upstream. Against the current, against the eddies, against the natural flow of things to ensure we're laying a foundation for a new generation.
It's messy and hard and exhausting. It takes everything we've got and sometimes more, but it gives a gift we could never imagine. It gives an opportunity for something new to happen. It gives life, far from the meaninglessness of a river too big and an ocean too wide to nourish the soul. In quiet places, in mountain streams, in secluded wilderness, this is where life happens.
Let us learn to swim with the current, trusting in the Lord who works all things together for our good. But let us learn also to swim against it when necessary, when life itself is on the line and we have the opportunity to do something truly beautiful.