The River of Life

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I was meeting Fr. “Bo” T. M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, for dinner at Hogwild, a great barbeque place. I had ordered the barbeque ribs and Fr. Bo was having the one pound plus barbeque pork chop. Father Bo was in a philosophical mood and started one of his discourses.

“It occurs to me that life is like being in a river. The river is God, and God is constantly surrounding you and is always influencing you. In the first part of life you are constantly paddling up stream, trying to achieve all manner of things, including power, prestige, wealth, and position. Sometimes you try to acquire more material goods than is reasonable and healthy for any one person to have. How many houses, cars, TVs, suits, dresses, shoes, computers, etc. does one person really need? You work hard at trying to achieve all of these goals. Paddling upstream is hard work, and you expend great quantities of energy to get to where you are trying to go.”

“Fr. Bo,” I responded, “I think that it is called chasing the American dream.”

Fr. Bo went on. “At some point during the second half of life, through wisdom and grace, over the course of months and years, you gradually come to realize that paddling upstream to achieve all of your goals is too hard and not worth it. At this point, you reverse course and start paddling downstream. Your goals become easier to achieve because they are simpler. You feel more a part of the flow of the river. Life becomes more enjoyable. You see more of God in the river. You are more often aware of God. But you are still paddling. The work is not as hard, but you are still working.”

“Fr. Bo, I think that description fits my experience of retirement. I think the IVC experience fits in nicely here.”

“Yes,” he said, “but finally, if you are blessed, you realize that you don’t really have to paddle at all. All you have to do is let go and float. Now God is doing all of the work, and taking you exactly where He wants you to go. But you often go back to paddling, because you do not like giving up control. This is the work of the second half of life, learning to give up control and completely trust in God.”

I replied, “No one said it better than St. Augustine all those centuries ago: ‘Thou hast created us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.’

Through the grace of God, may each and every one of us learn to let go more and more, and to allow ourselves to float in the surrounding glory of God’s presence, trusting completely in our God.


Rich Pozdol, a retired attorney, is in his sixth year as an Ignatian Volunteer in Chicago.  He serves at the Catholic Charities South Regional office in South Holland.  This reflection is a reprint from IVC Chicago’s Footprints Blog.

5 Responses to “The River of Life”

  1. Christine Curran

    Bravo, Rich. We are so glad to have you as an IVC Chicago member!
    Fr. Bo is starting to grow on me…

  2. Madeleine Kirk

    Isn’t this inviting us to be lazy? Sloth is floating and we have spent our lives trying not to be slothful, but productive, useful and of service. Now we have to contemplate a major shift of gears? Is that our job now in our old age? After many years in IVC I am now enjoying working with 3-year-olds who don’t understand or speak much English, and maybe I’m just floating downstream with a happy smile on my face and didn’t realize that’s my job at 83. Thank you!!

  3. Fr. Joe McCloskey , S.J.

    A wonderful description of the Contemplative in Action. We pray like it all depends on us and work like it all depends on God. Only our emptiness is big enough for God’s work. How wonderful it is to reach the other side of the mountain where we go down. We still have to watch our step because we can go too fast. Their is our pace and God’s pace. We walk in his footsteps. And we quickly discover that it is fun to dance with the Lord even when we get out of his footprints. It is the excitement of what is right about life.

  4. Kevin Tansey

    Thanks Rich for your wonderful offering. Of course, analogies never seem to be a perfect “fit” for the point one wishes to make. But, my 2-cents worth is that your point is profound and identifies a key stumbling block to my own spiritual development: the seemingly endless (conscious and unconscious) desire of the ego (or false self) to be in control of everything. (I find, for example, I even try very hard, unconsciously, to control the plot of the movies I’m watching.)

    As I see it (and this may not provide the full 2-cents worth promised): (1) “paddling” is the ego or “false self” trying to control everything (or it seems like everything) so that it works out best “for ME” or “makes ME look good,” etc. We’re human; we do this. As we mature, we are, one hopes, less self-absorbed and more focused in our efforts toward the good of others, especially those less fortunate than we have been. On the other hand (2) “not paddling at all” doesn’t mean the complete absence of any effort on our part; instead, it refers to not striving towards our narrow, self-centered goals. Isn’t “going with the flow,” in this case, really working in tune with our highest ideals, our own true self, the Divine within each of us? Although we’re not paid in money, it seems that for most IVC volunteers I’ve met, the “psychic income” (or satisfaction) we get from working for the good of others in need, makes our IVC work the best paying job we’ve ever had.


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