When I was 9 years old, my parents bought a fishing lodge in Canada. Starting that summer, my brother, then 13, my father and myself went to work. The day after school got out we hopped on a floatplane that dropped us off at the Port Hardy airstrip and we began to work. Not a little bit either- we worked every day of the summer: 12- 14 hours a day. That first summer I worked on the grounds and cleaned boats and then when I was 10 and 11, I washed dishes all summer long. At 12, I began to be trained as a fishing guide (wanting to get as far from that “dish pit” in the kitchen as I could get) and when I was 13, I became a full-fledged fishing guide. For the entirety of the summer my job was to take people from around the world out fishing. Navigate the boat through the Inside Passage for twenty or thirty minutes, set up the fishing equipment, and spend the day trolling for salmon. Looking back- I can safely say that everything I really ever needed to learn in life happened on the deck of a 23’ Sea Ray Laguna- guiding these guests from around the world.
Fishing can be fast and exciting with non-stop action. But quite often, trolling for Pacific salmon is a quiet sport, influenced more by patience and precision and waiting for the next strike. And when you are guiding a 23’ boat out fishing for 10-12 hours, if you can’t get people talking about themselves and telling stories, it makes for a very quiet, very long, and very awkward day. So I became good and asking questions.
“Tell me about your business. Tell me about your kids. Tell me about your ____”- it didn’t matter what they were talking about- just as long as everyone was talking. On the best days, the fishing was good enough to carry the conversation. But on the rest of the days? That is when the best guides get people to open up.
And though people came from around the world from vastly different social or cultural contexts, I quickly began seeing a pattern that first summer at 13. Though people had reached a certain level of worldly success to enable a 4-day fishing holiday, this worldly success rarely parlayed itself into relational or emotional success. I met people that owned companies and built skyscrapers and owned yachts and jets and one guy that even owned an island. Men that had stadiums named after them or had lived off trust funds and travelled the globe. But when they talked of their marriage, or of their relationship with their children, or of their own hopes and dreams for their lives, their material success wasn’t a marker for their emotional well being. I quickly learned, the happiest people and the most content people weren’t often the most well off. Or if they were well off financially, they had learned to live for something deeper than mere financial gain.
I wasn’t a Christian at the time, though raised in a Christian home with good parents; I hadn’t yet grabbed my own relationship with the Lord. But that summer definitely started to crack the foundation of my life a bit. I began to see that the richest lives lived had nothing to do with money. The best lives lived were people that had a deeper sense of meaning to their life, and often, these people had a special relationship with God as well.
Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher from the 17th century, once said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” So no matter if people are rich or poor, when they go about stuffing this vacuum with anything other than a real and authentic relationship with God, emptiness ensues. The writer of Ecclesiastes notes this in a different way: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Surely, there is a divine mystery to life, but as I took people out fishing, those with a relationship with God seemed to empower them to live a deeper life more attune to this mystery- more able to live deeply in the here and now because they were seeking Christ instead of stuffing the hole.
There is a terrible tendency for people to stuff the holes in their life with that which can’t fill them. That which can’t sustain. It’s like being hungry and trying to fill up in a candy store. There will be some immediate relief as the sugar fills your stomach and tells your brain it is full. But the sugar burns off so quick and the insulin crash that happens leaves you feeling worse off then when you showed up in the first place. Looking for a real meal? Skip the candy store and head to the butcher. The meat of life is in living for more than material blessings can offer.
My time as a fishing guide has given me some help to offer 3 tangible steps if you long for more fulfillment and depth to your life.
#1) Keep fishing: One of the most basic truths that every fisher understands is that you can’t catch fish if you never leave the dock. You simply must be on a boat or knee deep in the water if you have any chance of hooking something. In the same way, if you are looking for meaning and purpose and fulfillment in your life- KEEP FISHING. Keep asking questions and looking deeper into what makes the world tick. The book of James has a simple promise that has been very helpful to me in my life: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to You.” Or better stated: “Keep fishing if you want to catch Me.”
#2) Always keep your bait in the water: While fishing, I’ve met anglers that get so paralyzed with the options before them they have trouble ever keeping their bait in the water. Do I fish a cut plug herring or anchovy? Plastic hootchie behind a flasher or a Tomic plug by itself? They hem and haw while staring down at their tackle box and all the myriad of options that are before them. But the whole time they ponder, they are missing the chance of actually fishing. My point? As you go seeking a relationship with God or asking questions about what will fill your life up, start fishing and stop asking questions. If your trying one thing and it isn’t working so hot, you can always change tackle later on. But don’t waste a ton of time deciding how you are going to fish. Start fishing now.
#3) Acknowledge your need. Go seeking a real answer: Our head pastor RD “don’t make peace with the prison walls- you were made for freedom!” He was preaching on the Psalms and discussing that we can cry out to God when the world around us doesn’t match the hopes and longings we have for our lives. It is in this active engagement with God over that which disappoints us or has hurt us or confuses us that makes us able to connect with God in an authentic way. We were made for freedom- and this freedom is only available in the trusting relationship with God. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about this very thing: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” When you call out to God, and realize the slavery of oppression that comes from materialism or pornography or substances or destructive relationships…these are all empty attempts at filling the hole… the hole that only God can fill. So acknowledge your need and go seeking a real answer.
And then what? Well – you go fishing. You open your bible. You reach out to a friend that seems to have an authentic relationship with God and ask them questions. You come to church this Sunday to hear me preaching about FREEDOM. You fish for a real answer that is found in Christ. And the good news is that once you start fishing, you will always catch the thing you are searching for. I wish you luck!