My friends and I had planned a Great Rivers of Europe trip for over a year. As the date approached, a drought hit and some cruises were changed to bus/land trips. Finally, confident the itinerary would be as promised, we packed, and four days later, flew across the big pond. Plans included cruising several rivers and canals. History, architecture, and culture came to life. So did the new cuisine.

One morning, excited about another day of sightseeing, I moved the curtains on my cabin’s window. Prepared to see a river and countryside, I was stunned when faced with a wall. Right-a wall. Locks were a regular feature of our river cruise. This time, we were stuck in a lock.

In case you aren’t familiar with locks, they are devices used for raising and lowering boats and ships between stretches of different levels on waterways. They’re impressive, until you realize if you are in a ship, you are practically entombed in one. The wall outside of my cabin attested to that.

Without a scenic view from my cabin, I walked to the dining room for breakfast. While I was enjoying my omelet and warm croissants with new friends, the captain and crew were measuring and moving. In a twenty-minute process, gates opened, closed, and opened again. On schedule, at 9 am, passengers disembarked for a walking tour. We were out of the lock and moving to explore another unique town.

One evening after dinner, a program director announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are passing through one of the three largest locks on the river, eighty-six feet tall. Come on deck and toast with everyone.”

Despite chatter, multiple phone cameras documenting the event, and an abundance of champagne and sparkling juice, I looked at the imposing walls and realized I was surrounded. We were immoveable, waiting for the gates to open, and dependent on the crew’s expertise to get us through on to the river.

Stuck between two places; watching and waiting. A lot like life. We feel stuck and want gates to open.

Maybe one life chapter has ended and we’re looking for a new beginning. It isn’t happening on our timetable or as we had hoped or planned. Perhaps our chapters look like waiting for reconciliation in a relationship and the other party is unwilling. We wait for medical test results, and they are inconclusive. Some changes are expected- job to retirement, children to empty next. Other changes come at us, like unexpectedly seeing the wall outside of my cabin window: a new lifestyle after divorce, losing a job, or a moving to new school better suited to a child’s learning needs but affecting family schedules and dynamics. Some life changes are exciting, similar to an afternoon on the deck complete with sunshine, where we enjoyed the company of new friends and watched the lock process together.

But often, in life changes, we don’t entertain enjoyment or sunshine, but feel as if we are locked in.

From a bystander’s perspective, operating a lock is simple. When a boat is travelling downstream, the lock is already full of water, the entrance gates are opened, the boat moves in, and the entrance gates are closed. Locked in. A valve is opened, lowering the boat by draining water from the chamber. The exit gates are opened and the boat moves out. For a boat travelling upstream, the process is reversed; The whole operation can take between ten to twenty minutes. Locks were a fascinating and essential part of the cruise. If a ship didn’t depart on time, its place in line would be lost. Reaching the destination would be delayed.

We question delays, but the processes in life transitions may be essential to arrive at a desired goal or destination.”]”]

How can we manage well in our locked position before we navigate to our next place? Are we really stuck or is it part of a process leading to a different destination? Should we be more aware of what else is happening-a character test, a learning phase, or preparation for something new and unfamiliar? Are we resisting and delaying progress, or resisting developing spiritual disciplines and habits of grace?

In life changes and transitions, it helps to evaluate our perspective. You may want to journal your answers as you consider your process:
  • Do we see changes coming at strategic places for our good to fulfill God’s purposes?
  • Do we view our experiences as life interruptions and obstacles to our plans?
  • Can we look at the timeline of our life and see transitions as creatively designed under God’s oversight and care?
  • Is staying still viewed as an opportunity to rest and regroup?
  • Do we respect or resist the process?
  • Do we trust God is expertly working behind the scenes?

Some may think locks are a nuisance, inconvenient, and an obstacle, slowing the trip. But technology and engineering work together to create an amazing lock system for safety, movement, and progress. One look at a crew navigating inches between the side of a ship and a lock’s wall develops respect for their expertise.

How do you answer those questions? What have your experiences been in locked situations?

Next week, I’ll share the rest of the story.

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