A memory often passes through my mind, a memory from last summer when Valentine was learning to swim. I took her to a small pool, alone, just the two of us. No shallow end, no lifeguards, no friends, no summer pop songs blaring over the speakers. Standing a body length from the side of the pool, I called for her to swim to me.
Valentine lowered herself down the ladder and let her body float as she clutched the handrails. She smiled and giggled in the water, experimenting with small splashes and kicks.
I called to her again.
She didn’t budge, white knuckles on the rail, and that’s when I noticed the fear in her eyes.
For the next thirty minutes we played this tug of war, me calling her out into the water, thinking of the freedom and joy and safety of swimming. She holding onto the edges, flailing and dog-paddling to keep her head above water, lunging from the side into my arms. It wasn’t the water she was scared of. It was the under-water, the change of scenery, the drowning that brought her terror.
I would reassure her, “You can’t drown. I would catch you.” But she wouldn’t even put herself in the position to sink. She did not put me to the test. She controlled her destiny.
And then her foot slipped on the ladder. Her body sank quickly and I saw her eyes, magnified by fear and refraction, peering up at me from beneath the surface of the water. My long arms reached her in a moment, my strength lifted her before she needed her next breath, my warmth soothed her as I clutched her to my chest.
And the spell was broken.
She now saw what I had been trying to show her—that there was no possible future in which she failed. She could flail and procrastinate and swim incorrectly, but I knew that this was all part of the process and would patiently teach until she had learned it. But even if she sank, there I was to catch her.
Now that she trusted me, she dipped her head beneath the surface, into the unknown, and felt her body suspend and float. She realized the actual ease of swimming, that letting go was actually the doing of swimming. With graceful brushes of her hands and feet, she propelled herself through the water and into my arms.
In her book for children, Sally Lloyd-Jones writes,
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to ask people, “Are you a Christian?”
If they said, “I’m trying!” he knew they didn’t really understand. Because being a Christian isn’t about trying. It’s about trusting.
When I am faced with difficult tasks, when I feel weak and incapable, when I must do something I do not know how to do, my initial impulse is both to try very hard and to play it safe. This is because even when I push myself to my limit, those limits are very limitted. My world stays small and controllable and—worst of all—faithless.
Instead, I must remember the limitless power and goodness of my creator, savior and friend who is not only in the water with me, but is the one who put me there in the first place. In the hard times, God has something he wants to teach me. He wants me to learn that I don’t have to try hard to earn salvation, but instead I must trust that Jesus’ death on my behalf was enough to pay the penalty for my sin. So my soul is safe no matter what.
But there’s another lesson as well. In Romans, Paul writes that,
God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
He has covered me with the goodness of Jesus, but then he is also using all of life’s ups and downs to make me like Jesus—this is the great “good” that he is working out in my life.
So life is my swimming lesson. I want to work hard, listening to God’s voice calling me to bravery and excellence. I want to accept that I will make mistakes, that it’s a learning process, and to be content with my imperfect attempts. And I want to trust that it’s impossible for me to fail—even in the worst possible scenarios of professional failure or personal pain, God’s strong arms will keep my soul safe.
(Photo by Alexa Mazzarello)