By Kathleen Billings


For the past twelve years my family and I have lived in charming little town about 1 hour west of downtown Chicago.  Nearly every day we drive on a bridge that crosses over the picturesque Fox River.  As much as we enjoy participating in outdoor sports as a family, we have never actually been on or in the river.  That changed last week when my 11-year-old son chose kayaking on the Fox River as the activity for our special mother/son day together.  

We rented a tandem kayak at a local shop and to my initial dismay, we were informed that we would be paddling upstream against a small current.  This was my son’s first-time kayaking and I was excited to share my recent newfound love for this sport, but I was concerned that he might get discouraged in our efforts to paddle upstream instead of going with the flow of water.

As we began to direct our kayak, going against the natural flow of water, I quickly realized how easy it was to get off course.  We appeared to go a little to the left, then a little to the right, as we slowly zig zagged along in our forward movement.  Occasionally, we actually backtracked. A few times we stirred particularly close to the shore and got stuck in the muck.  We used our paddles as leverage while we pushed down on the bottom of the muddy river bed to escape the shallow water.  Overall, it was a fun and challenging experience.  We saw natural beauty from a different perspective and walked away with sore arm muscles and a feeling of accomplishment!

My son and I chatted about our 2-hour kayaking adventure over pizza at a local restaurant that night.  We discussed the commonalities between kayaking against a current and living a virtuous, Christian life.  Often doing what is right and true feels like paddling upstream.  It requires perseverance and determination to stay on course to live an authentic Christian life.

Properly navigating the daily challenges and temptations I am faced with can be arduous and demanding since living a virtuous life in line with the teachings of our Catholic faith is sadly often counter cultural. I sometimes feel like I am paddling upstream. A distraction here, a lure there – and if I am not purposeful and passionate about reaching my destination, I find myself going off course.  When this happens, I know I need a spiritual re-charge.  I go to adoration to strengthen my resolve and nurture my interior life and I go to confession to clean my soul and start anew.   

It was very evident when I kayaked that even a subtle current caused an alteration in direction when I was not paddling. I had to stay engaged and not just float if I wanted to keep moving forward.  It is the same in my walk with God.  I cannot just float through life expecting Him to lead me and give me strength for the journey.  I have to purposefully engage my heart and soul moment to moment.  When I get stuck in the muck of life, I ask God in His mercy to pull me out and set me back on course.  I have to work with him though in the way I direct my boat. 

We are not meant for shallow water ladies, God calls us into the deep.   Are you willing to let Him lead you?

About the author:

Kathleen Billings is married to her best friend, a mother of five beautiful blessings and three more souls in Heaven. She has a BA in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Together with her husband, Troy, they began and direct a vibrant parish based Marriage Ministry called BAM – Building Amazing Marriages. Kathleen has a personal blog entitled where she writes about living her faith, in every season, as a wife and mother amidst the ordinary moments each day that God wants to make extraordinary. She is a regular blogger on marriage for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Website and is also a contributing author to the book “Amazing Grace for Mothers.” Kathleen has been an active Catholic speaker for the past 20 years – speaking at days of recollection, retreats for women, retreats for married couples, evenings of reflection and women’s groups.

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Billings: Seasons of the Heart and Home.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved