The River and The Rock

A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence.

– Jim Watkins

This quote found me about six weeks ago. I wish I could say that I found this quote displayed at the gym somewhere or on a T-shirt of someone bouncing on a treadmill ahead of me, but I didn’t. Confession: I found it while browsing Pinterest searching for motivation. Literally, I searched the word “motivation” on the internet instead of searching within myself for the motivation I knew I needed. If this were a piece I was reading instead of writing, I would choose not to judge the writer, so I will choose not to judge myself for that one. Motivation and inspiration can come to us in the strangest of places and at the most inappropriate of times.

The past six weeks or so have somehow shifted me. No, it wasn’t a Pinteresting quote I found that suddenly kicked me in the butt. To understand this current leg of my journey, I have to talk about the struggles and the mindset that led to them.

It started back in early November when I got a nasty case of the winter blues. Depression. The word “depressed” literally means to be pressed down. To be flattened. I feel that definition. Depression is one of the root causes that led to me carrying almost 200 excess pounds in the first place. I was pressed down by it, and it held me down for a long time.

So when my depression came back in November, true to its form, the depression started pressing down on me. I started feeling its weight hanging on me. I had lost over 100 pounds, but I suddenly felt as if I had gained 200 pounds of spiritual weight in its stead. Thoughts started swirling into me persistently as I looked in the mirror and as I tried to fight through them.

  • “You will never look like those people with perfect, smooth, tight skin. Even if you hit your goal weight, which is still months (if not years!) away, you will always bear the marks of a former fatty. What’s the point?”
  • “All this hard work. All the sacrifices. And look. Still so far to go. You’re still fat. What’s the point?”
  • “What’s the point of slogging through this day by day if you can’t even see the daily fruits of your labor? Wasn’t it just easier to be fat?”
  • “If someone on the street had to judge your weight, they would not see how far you have come. They would just see that you are overweight. What’s the point?”

…and on and on. Weighing me, pressing me down. What’s the point? Echoing. Reverberating. Cutting. Resounding. Refraining.

Most people, upon seeing the quote about the river and the rock see it in exactly the manner in which it was intended. It is supposed to be this inspiring message about becoming like the river: persistent, strong, and steadfast.

The problem is that when you are working on changing yourself in any sort of long-term, meaningful way, you are both the river and the rock. You are both the obstacle and the one who must overcome it. You are both the successes and the failures. You are the strength that cuts away at your obstacles, and the same strength that withstands the blows you are dealt.

You are the river, who must be powerful enough to persist through the obstacle, wearing it down one day at a time. You are the rock, who must stand in defiance, day after day, as the rivers of depression, judgment, and self-doubt cut into you and wear you down.

There is both difficulty and beauty in being both. It’s hard, persisting when you are cut down a little at a time, but therein lies the beauty: the creation of strength.

There’s another word to consider literally: strength. When I go to the gym, part of what I do is strength training. I add weight, or resistance, and push it away. That is, in the most literal sense, what strength is. Strength, be it physical or emotional, comes from systematically and persistently teaching yourself to push against a burden.

In my Google quest for meaning and motivation, I discovered another quote:

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

– Maya Angelou

In other words, without resistance, we can’t build strength. Without being pressed down upon, we can’t learn what it really means to arise.

I don’t pretend to be some sort of paragon of strength. I’m not, I promise. But I am stronger than I was a year ago, or even yesterday for that matter. And tomorrow and next year will introduce me to a yet unrevealed person of greater strength. Strength that comes from the persistent, erosive resistance. Strength that comes from being pressed down upon.

I am the river.  I will use my strength to cut into my obstacles, weathering them one day at a time.

I am the rock.  I know I will be cut and battered by my obstacles, but I will hold steadfast in standing against them.

I am the river.  I will shake my foundations to create change.

I am the rock.  I will stand firm as turbulent waters seek to shake my resolve.

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Leah Rosado (3 years ago)

This article changed my lesson plan for Donuts and Devotions, a HS Bible study I do for 20 minutes on Monday mornings. We read this article and connected it to Romans 5:3-5 and James chapter 1. This article really spoke to the students! All of us have struggles that sometimes seem insurmountable but the metaphors of being the rock and the river is a life lesson. Thank you!

    Ashley (3 years ago)

    Thank you for taking the time to comment! I am so happy that this spoke to your students in a meaningful way.

Taylor Hoffman (3 years ago)

Thank you for this inspiration! This is just what I needed with all that I am going through lately. I must add, the last time I saw you at work I thought to myself, “wow, she looks great!” Keep up the good work, Ash.

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