Row, row, row your boat

by Maggie Chandler

Many years ago, someone asked the famous theologian Karl Barth, “What is the greatest theological discovery you have made during your life?” He thought for a minute and said:

“Jesus loves me this I know,

For the Bible tells me so!”


After all his years of study, this simple song he had learned as a child summed up his philosophy of life in just 12 words. Compared with theological mumbo-jumbo, simple works for me. The Bible says Jesus loves me. I believe it. Simple.

A few years ago, a Ukrainian man named Teddy Rezvoy, hoping to become the first man to row a boat 3,354 miles from New York to France, rowed only 200 miles before the U.S. Navy mistook him for a terrorist. He ended up in New York; his boat somewhere out in the Atlantic.   

Poor man. He didn’t mean any harm. He was just interested in rowing his boat. 

That made me think about another children’s song, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” that was often sung at church camps, along with Kumbaya.

“Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.”

I’ve thought seriously about adding these wise and practical 18 words to the three words, “Jesus Loves Me,” to form my own philosophy of life in, as they say, just 25 words or less. Here’s why.

The word row is repeated three times. Quite simply, it means don’t quit. Keep rowing unless, or until, God tells you to stop. And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, row your own boat, not somebody else’s. 

Row gently. You’ll enjoy life so much more if you do. There’s no need to harbor anger and bitterness. Try a soft and tender touch. Easy does it. Row gently, ever so gently, down the stream. 

Rowing downstream is much easier than forging headlong upstream, battling currents all the way. The river of God’s will flows in one direction, so why not surrender to Him? Find out which way God is going and get going in that direction.

“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily” speaks to me. “Row” is mentioned only three times, but “merrily” four times! Attitude is indeed more important than aptitude. A good attitude teaches us to rejoice in the Lord in all things, so that both the pleasures of life and the sorrows of life can be met with joy and equanimity. 

Finally, life is but a dream – a vapor that appears for a little while and then passes away. Why not drop some of the existential angst and view life in a brand new way?    

Should anyone ever ask me about my philosophy of life, I’ll be ready: “Jesus loves me this I know, and I love Him back in the way I row!”