When I was in fifth grade, I had a truly wonderful science teacher. I thought she was AWESOME. One day, my science teacher taught us about amoebas. She told us that they lived in ponds, streams, and lakes. She mentioned that if any of us could get a jar of lake water, and if there was an amoeba in the water, we could look at it beneath a microscope. I was so excited! I lived on a farm, and I had access to that type of water. Quickly, I raised my hand and volunteered. As my teacher and my classmates smiled at me, I felt like a celebrity.
On the bus ride home, I made my plans. I thought the best place to catch amoebas would be the back pasture of my family’s farm. Overflow from my father’s irrigation lake was slowly flowing through part of the pasture, and the lazy stream was full of moss and algae. It seemed like an amoeba paradise.
Being a confident fifth-grader, I didn’t tell my mother what I was doing. After all, I was practically grown up, and I thought that amoeba catching was a fairly harmless pastime. I didn’t think I needed Mom’s help or advice. Sneaking out of the house, I collected a canning jar from the shed. And feeling very smart, I tucked my father’s rubber overshoes under my arm.
My walk to the pasture was beautiful. Birds were singing and butterflies were flying. But my jaunt took a different turn when I finally reached the sluggish stream. My nose twitched at the dank, mucky smell. The stench of the water wasn’t exactly pleasant. Looking down at the murky depths, I could see all kinds of bugs swimming beneath the surface. In spite of the stench, I knew I’d hit gold.
Although I could stand on the bank to collect my sample, for some reason, I decided that the best amoebas would be in the center of the stream. Tugging on my father’s overshoes, I wadded into the water. Dad’s overshoes were about a gazillion sizes too big, and they kept trying to fall off my feet. The bottom of the stream was mucky, and the mud kept trapping my boots. Being stubborn, I kept going. After several instances of stumbling, whirling my arms like a windmill, and catching my balance, I thought about stopping. But I decided that my teacher and my classmates were worth some extra effort. Tenaciously, I made my awkward way to the middle of the stream.
When I arrived, I looked down at the water. Plodding around had disturbed the muck, and the water was murky. I frowned. I was afraid that the amoebas had skittered away because of the mud. Patiently, I stood still, waiting until the mud settled and the water was clear again. I’m not sure how long I stood with my hands on my knees, anxiously peering down at the water, but it was quite a while. Finally, when all the muck was settled, I held my breath and filled my jar with water. I felt a rush of triumph as I screwed on the lid. I had done my best, and I knew it!
Smiling widely, I decided to walk toward the shore, but when I tried lifting my foot, it wouldn’t budge. I was horrified! Looking down, I realized that my boots had sunk in the mud while I was waiting for the water to clear. My boot tops were now only a few inches above the stinky waterline. With all my might, I tried lifting my feet. My boots wouldn’t move. Bending over, I tugged on my boots with my hands. They still wouldn’t shift. Frozen in place, I tried thinking my way out of the silly situation. I hadn’t told my mother where I was going, so I couldn’t expect immediate help…
Suddenly, I felt my boots sinking deeper into the muck. Desperately, I made a violent lunge toward the shore. I felt sure that my momentum would free my boots, but it didn’t work that way. One foot popped out of its boot while my other foot held fast. I almost toppled into the water—only my extreme distaste for the stinking muck kept me on my feet. If Olympic judges had been watching my improvised twists and shimmies, they would have given me a 10.0 for flamboyant style!
Standing on one leg, and trying desperately not to get wet, I tugged at my empty boot. After a momentous struggle, it finally came loose with a squelching, sucking sound. I could feel my captive, booted foot sinking further into the mud. Wiggling like mad to keep my balance, I tried to put the freed boot onto my freed foot…
I am not a gymnast, nor am I an acrobat. I’ve never claimed to be graceful or even reasonably coordinated. What happened next was inevitable. I ended up flat on my back in the mucky water. Few things are quite as stinky as stagnate pond water. And not many things are as gross as being immersed in it. The only good thing about that incident is that I did come away with a jar of water.
The next day, I proudly presented the jar to my science class, and it did yield quite a few excellent amoebas. As my teacher praised me, I smiled shyly and said that gathering the water hadn’t been a problem at all…
Down through the years, my memory of amoeba catching has always made me chuckle. And believe it or not, I’ve found a correlation between my pond adventure and my current life. You see, when I was in fifth grade, I didn’t tell my mother where I was going because I didn’t want any advice. I thought I could do everything on my own. If Mom had been with me, she would’ve told me that a water sample from the edge of the stream would be just as good as one from the middle. She also would’ve told me that wearing big boots in a muddy area wasn’t exactly a brilliant idea. But I didn’t want advice, and I suffered the stinky, smelly consequences.
I find that sometimes I still don’t like asking for advice. And many times, when I go blindly on my way, I make stupid mistakes that could’ve been easily prevented. This holds true in my spiritual life as well. Sometimes, I don’t pray over my plans. I have lots of excuses for this lapse, but usually it boils down to three reasons: I think I have everything figured out, or I think that the decision I’m making is small, or I’m feeling pressed for time. I’ve found that when I don’t pray over my plans, disaster is just around the corner. Usually, the small decisions that I don’t cover with prayer end up being more perilous than the big decisions that I commit to God.
Over the years, I’ve learned that asking advice from others—and especially, asking advice from God—isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. I’ve found that seeking advice is the one thing that can keep me from ending up on my back in the middle of a mucky stream desperately clutching a jar full of amoebas.
“A fool thinks he needs no advice, but a wise man listens to others.” Proverbs 12:15