Mary Whipple and the Still, Small Voice
by Charlton Hiott
senior associate pastor of pastoral ministries
For more than a grueling mile, the eight women aboard the American shell rowed and toiled with all their might and strength in a flurry of motion and emotion. Yet, nine of them crossed the finish line to claim first place and take home the gold for the USA in an improbable and dramatic finale at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The crew of eight women was exhausted, gasping for air, feeling the stinging ache of every spent muscle in their bodies as they tried to comprehend what they had just accomplished. However, one lady on board had barely broken a sweat: Mary Whipple. She was the 5-foot 3-inch, 106-pound coxswain for the American 8-Women Crew that averaged six feet tall!
As coxswain for the crew, Mary’s role was to sit at the stern of the shell and keep the rowers in cadence, check their oar positions, give correction and encouragement, keep them on their pace and above all else, guide the team to the finish line. Mary did not row; she had no oar of her own. While the other eight ladies had their backs to the finish line, Mary Whipple’s eyes were focused on the finish line. She remained still and poised while the other ladies were consumed in physical activity. And because they listened, trusted, and responded to Mary’s voice, they achieved victory.
Another school year is upon us; another pre-fall burst of activity and excitement will soon replace the slower pace of those languid days of summer. To Do and To Buy lists will soon grow longer and beckon with urgency as enrollments, events, and expectations begin to dictate the cadence of a life that can easily flutter, flail, and expend an enormous amount of energy but never rests—making for a life that can indulge and consume, but is never satisfied.
Please don’t misunderstand me, back-to school is exciting and fall is my favoritetime of year, but the subtle demands of what you must do and the sometimes not so subtle messages of what you must have (last year I saw Christmas decorations in a major retail chain just a few days after Labor Day!) can place enormous pressure on any of us. We can become so busy and preoccupied with so many good things during the next few months that we lose sight of where we are going and the ones with whom we are going.
Beware the bareness of a busy life.
—Corrie Ten Boom
In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.
When faced with the temptation of busyness, we do well to remember Mary Whipple. Someone or something is calling cadence in your life. Who or what is it? Who or what gives you correction and encouragement as you live life? Will this upcoming season be another in a habitual pattern that flutters and flails, indulges and consumes precious time and energy. If you are not careful, you can end up at the end of this season tired and exhausted, physically and emotionally spent, having moved further from the goal of your race, searching for victory and finding bareness instead.
In a life led by Christ, resting and being busy are incompatible actions, whereas resting and being active are not. Christ is like a coxswain in our life, but infinitely more. If each day lived is like a rowing stroke in a race toward eternity, then He sets our pace. His correction and encouragement, given in mercy and grace, are sufficient and sustaining for the challenge of each day. When we listen to His voice and respond with an active trust, He keeps us heading toward the goal. He sees beyond us while we, like rowing crew members, can’t see what is ahead.
In that eight-woman crew final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there were several teams racing, but the American team focused eyes, ears, and effort on Mary Whipple above all the noise, activity, and excitement erupting around them. Mary set their pace and gave their directions that day.
For us, as this expectant time of year approaches, it may be that the best thing we can do is to stop and be still and figure out to whose voice we are really listening. Instead of burning out in incessant busyness, we can actively trust in Jesus and find rest for our souls. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for each day. He speaks to us each day and often in the still small voice of his Word and Spirit.
Do you hear Him above the demand and din of this busy world?