Swimming Upstream

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”        James 1:4

koinoboriThe koinobori fluttered in the spring breeze on the flag pole as a visible reminder that Kodomo no Hi (子供の日), or Children’s Day, was coming soon. Every May 5th, Japanese celebrate this national holiday by attaching bright, colorful streamers in the shape of carp called “koi” to express their well wishes for children. “Nobori” means “climbing” or “ascending”, so juxtaposed the words “koi” and “nobori” are translated to “carp streamers”. The Japanese greatly admire koi since they are a spirited fish that fight their way upstream, demonstrating courage and determination to attain a difficult goal. This imagery is captured by the flapping carp-shaped streamers on flag poles throughout Japan.

Originally, the number of koi flown was determined by the number of males within a household. The father was typically represented by the largest, black colored carp at the top. But in modern times, all the members of the family are now included on the pole, with a pink or red flag standing for the mother.

The koinobori expresses hope that the children of that household will grow up healthy and strong like carp swimming upstream. Larger versions of koinobori are raised in school grounds or near community centers and the timing often coincides with the blooming of nearby cherry trees, adding to the festive atmosphere. Everyone desires their children to be strong and healthy, like vigorous carp swimming upstream, but such qualities are often obtained through the challenges of adversity. It is certainly much easier to swim downstream and float with the current, but this does not produce the needed life attributes of perseverance, self-control, endurance and determination.

Many well-intentioned parents, in their zeal to protect their children to the exclusion of everything else, unwittingly obstruct such needed development and stunt their children’s growth. Swimming upstream may seem counter intuitive to our natural inclination to take the easy route, but it serves to produce strong and healthy children who are better prepared to face the inevitable challenges of life.

God desires the same for His children and as a result, wisely introduces trials, obstacles and hardships into our lives to make us strong. The goal is to help us mature and reach the full potential of all that He has created us to be and do. The Apostle James (James 1:2-4) reminds us that perseverance is a means to a very worthwhile end but many times it is hard to appreciate such long term benefits as we struggle against the current. It is therefore good to recall that we do not swim alone in such efforts and that we are not without aid as we press forward in the circumstances of life. These are truths we must pass on to the next generation as they wrestle with their own challenges and move towards the worthy goal of maturity in Christ.

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