Joel was sitting at his computer looking for a new game to play. He had heard of one that sounded really fun but couldn’t remember the name of it. Something about a stream, or was it a river? The final stream maybe? He did a search on all those words and couldn’t find what he was looking for. Then he saw a link to “The Endless Stream.”
“That’s it!” he cried out as he clicked on the link. “I think…” he said doubtfully when it turned out not to be a game at all, but a story. He started to read…
Peter jumped in his dad’s old rowboat. And I do mean old. The faded blue paint was peeled in several places, and rust forming in its place. Peter hoped it would hold up. He was on a mission. They lived on a stream. It was a large stream, big enough for him to take the boat out onto. He and his dad often went out fishing on the stream.
Peter had heard that the stream ended at some point and he was on a mission to find the end of the stream. As many times as he went out on the stream, he never saw the end of it. Today was the day, he decided. So he dragged the old boat onto the water, put in the oars, a bag of chips and bottle of soda pop and off he went—downstream. Upstream, where he and his dad usually went, would be too much work.
He was excited about his adventure and rowed enthusiastically at first. But it didn’t take long and he stopped rowing to rest. He floated for a bit with the current and then slowed almost completely to a stop.
“This is hard work.” He said out loud as he opened his bag of chips. Just then a canoe came by with two people in it. They were moving pretty quick.
As they approached him they called out, “Did you see the apple tree back there?”
“No.” Peter yelled back. He had been so busy rowing he didn’t notice anything that was on the shore he passed.
“They’re really good!” They yelled as they passed him by.
Peter thought about going back to find them as he realized the chips wouldn’t last him very long but decided that would be too much work. He started rowing again, trying to remember to glance at the shore every so often to see what might be there. But soon he was just staring downstream looking for the end. Sometimes the stream would curve, and it looked like it ended, but when he rowed closer he saw it continued around the curve. By late afternoon he had finished his chips and soda pop and was really tired.
“How far can it be?” He asked out loud.
Then came a motorboat. “A motorboat!” He thought. “A boat with a motor!” He stopped rowing and admired the ease at which the boat quickly moved through the water.
“Where’d you get the motor?” Peter yelled out to them.
The man stopped and looked over Peter’s boat.
“Where you heading?” He asked, without answering Peter’s question.
“To the end. I want to find the end of the stream.” Peter answered.
“The end huh?” The man asked while rubbing his chin.
“So, where do you get a motor?” Peter asked again.
“Well son.” The man answered. “You need to stop sometimes. Learn how to build a good boat. Find those who make motors. People who can help you.”
“That sounds like a lot of work, and like it takes a long time.” Peter answered.
“Are you in a hurry?” The man asked.
“Well…” Peter answered. “I guess. My chips and soda are all gone and its starting to get dark.”
The man nodded. “Mmm hmm.” He said. “Well, there’s a spring just down the way a bit. Keep a close eye out for it and you can fill up your soda bottle with water. Then be sure to keep an eye out for fruit growing along the shore. You can find apples and berries all along in here.”
“O.K. Thanks.” Peter answered. Wondering if the man could just give him some food and water. But he was too afraid to ask.
“And listen.” The man continued. “Sometimes you need to stop and rest. You need to get off the stream and explore. Live life. You understand?”
“You want a nice boat? That’s what you’ll need to do.” He said.
“O.K.” Peter answered, wondering if that was really necessary.
The man left and Peter rowed with his eyes on the shore until he found the spring. He was happy when he found it. He wished he had more than one soda bottle to fill up, but he took a long drink from the spring and then filled the bottle up.
He rowed until well past dark. He was tired and stopped next to the shore. He decided to sleep for a bit and got off his seat and onto the floor of the boat. It was hard and uncomfortable, and Peter wished he had a pillow and blanket. His boat kept floating away too so he pulled down a small branch from the tree on the shore next to them and held onto it while he laid down.
Before long he heard some laughing and yelling and peeked up over the edge of the boat. There was a boat full of weird looking people. Pirates? He wondered. No, not on a stream. Right? Whoever they were they gave Peter the creeps and he stayed low in his boat hoping they wouldn’t see him. It seemed to take forever, but they finally passed by. Why are they going so slow? He wondered. He never knew there were such strange people on this stream at night.
Peter slept poorly. His hand was tired from holding the branch to keep them from drifting away. He was happy when the sun came up. Happy, but hungry. He was anxious to continue down the stream but first looked around for something to eat from the shore. He couldn’t find anything, so he started rowing while his stomach was still growling. He had every intention of watching the shore for apples or berries, but soon his mind wandered and his thoughts drifted back towards the end of the stream. By mid-morning his hunger pangs were quite distracting and he realized suddenly that he had not been watching the shore.
Just then, another motorboat came by.
“Have you seen any apples?” Peter asked.
“You just missed them a little ways back” The woman answered.
Peter looked down sadly and she stopped her boat.
“You know.” She said. “There are a lot of things on the shore that might help you on your journey.”
Peter looked up at her, thinking she sounded just like the man in the other boat.
She continued, “Following the stream isn’t everything you know. Why don’t you go back upstream just a bit and get some apples? There’s a woman there making some apple fritters too.” She said with a smile.
Peter thought that sounded wonderful but also that it was too much work to row upstream. She must have read his mind because she said, “You know, we see a lot of young people like you in this stream. They get so caught up in the stream that they don’t know what they’re passing by. They’re looking for something they can’t ever find. The stream never really ends. Or if it does, its in a lonely place. Its meant to be used to help you build your life on the shore, with your loved ones.”
Peter looked up at her. She looked very nice and very happy, but he wasn’t sure what he thought about what she was saying.
“What I’m saying is, if you just follow the flow of the stream, eventually it takes you to a lonely place. Away from your shore.”
Peter didn’t answer. As she sped away, he admired her boats ability to go quickly, and how well she could steer. “She could even drop anchor if she wanted.” He thought, thinking of his sore hand. But Peter didn’t go back to get the apples and by mid-afternoon he rowed towards the shore and pulled out seaweed from the bottom of the stream. He ate the seaweed and didn’t like it.
Peter continued to follow the stream, but he started paying more attention to the shore watching for apples, berries, and springs of water. At night, he laid low trying to avoid the weird people who came out. After several days of this, he stopped and got out at a place where he saw a man making boats. It felt good to stretch his legs and he realized he had hardly gotten out except to use one of the outhouses along the way.
“What you looking for?” the man asked Peter, glancing up from painting a boat.
“I was looking for the end of the stream.” Peter answered.
The man stopped painting and looked more closely at Peter. “How’s the search going?” He asked.
“Well. One person said I needed to get out on the shore sometimes and another woman said the stream doesn’t really end, except in a lonely place. So, I haven’t found it yet.”
“You know.” He said. “This stream here is very useful. We use it for fishing, for traveling, for swimming, and just plain enjoyment. It’s pretty to look at. But when you never get out of it then it becomes more of a curse than a blessing. It can consume you—rob you of all your time, your people, and your energy.”
Peter nodded. He started to understand now. The stream was useful, and fun. It helps people with their purpose. But the stream itself isn’t the purpose. He couldn’t live in the stream forever.
“What are you going to do?” The man asked.
“I never meant to run away.” Peter answered. “But that’s what I’ve done.” He started to cry then quickly wiped his tears. “I’m going to go back. Upstream. But I’ve got a long, hard way to go.”
The man smiled and said, “Well, I’ve got just the thing for you.” He stood up and motioned for Peter to follow him. They went into a barn and he picked up a motor. “This motor works for those who’ve made the decision you just made. Use it to go back upstream, back home to your family and find your shore there.”
Peter’s eyes got wide. Yet he wondered why the man would trust him to use the motor to go home. What if he tried to take it down stream?
“I’ll only use it to go upstream.” Peter said, feeling the need to reassure the man in case he was wondering. “I’m done looking for the end of the stream. If it never ends, I’ll never find it anyway and I’ll waste all my time. If it does end, but in a lonely place, well...”
“That’s the right choice son.” The man said with a smile. “Let me show you something.” He walked away and Peter followed. They walked along the shore of the stream and stopped a little ways down. The stream ran into a lake.
“Is this the end?” Peter asked.
“No, not really. It never really ends. It empties into the lake here but picks up again over there.” He pointed to a place far across the lake. “The lady told you right son. It doesn’t end. The streams keep going and if you don’t pay attention, they’ll take you farther away from your own shore—the place where you build your life.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. He was glad he made the decision to go back. This stream is nice to explore, but not something to follow endlessly.
“Thanks.” Peter said, staring across the lake, thinking how wrong it felt to go any further.
The man mounted the motor onto Peter’s boat and gave him enough gas to get home. He showed him how to use it and how to steer.
As Peter traveled quickly upstream, he watched the shoreline and saw all he had missed when he passed by before. The people living life, enjoying each other, talking, playing games, the beautiful houses, gardens, squirrels and birds. It was full of life. But with his head down and his eyes and thoughts focused on the stream, he missed it all before.
Before he knew it, he was back home. His dad was waiting, very happy to see him. When he saw the motor he said, “You made a difficult decision didn’t you?”
“Yes dad, and…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to run off like that for so long. It’s just… I thought… I thought I would find the end of the stream and that the end was someplace that would make me feel good. Like I finished something. Like I found something. The end. But it didn’t end. It keeps going. Some people tried to tell me. And there were weird people out at night. I didn’t eat right. I didn’t do anything except row, row, row, in the stream.” Peter was rambling but he didn’t care. He had to get it all out and his dad was listening intently.
“The boat man helped me. He gave me this motor…” Peter turned back to look at the new motor on the boat but it was gone. He looked at his dad and then back at the boat. There was no motor.
“You learned an important lesson Peter.” He said. “That motor is in you now. Once you’re willing to make the tough decision to get off the stream and back onto the shore of your life, you’ve gained new strength. Come on, we’ve all been waiting for you.”
Peter walked up to their house with his dad, knowing that this is the end of the stream for him. Or really, the beginning. This is where he belongs and where he can begin to build his purpose.
Joel finished reading the story which touched him deep inside. He no longer wanted to find that game. He wanted to find his shore. He climbed out of the boat and walked away.