When I was a kid, my parents and I went to this place called Word of Life up in New York. They had a day camp for the littles and I loved it!
One day, we went to the beach. The memory isn’t very clear anymore, and I’m sure the folks watching us were being careful, but as I waded out in the shallows, I slipped. For some reason, I just couldn’t seem to get my feet underneath me to stand up. We were in a lake, so maybe the rocks covering the bottom were slippery. Or maybe the current was strong. Most likely, I was just klutzy and uncoordinated. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t stand up, and in my little five year old mind, it seemed like I was going to drown.
Just when I thought all was lost, my friend June reached down her pudgy hand and yanked me to my feet. I coughed and gasped. I think I probably cried a little bit. When my mom came to get me, I ran to her and told her I almost drowned. The workers, understandably, downplayed this event.
In their eyes, they were probably telling the truth. It was shallow water. I was probably under a total of 10 seconds (it only seemed like 10 minutes). It probably was one of those things that scared me in much greater proportion to the actual danger I was in.
But it was enough to instill in me a great fear.
My mom, who is also not all that fond of the water, really tried. She took me to swim lessons. These lessons were not a huge success since on the very first day, the instructor – a perky college student – informed us with great enthusiasm we were all going to jump into the deep end from the diving board.
Probably seeing more than one pair of saucer eyes staring at her, she quickly assured us we’d be holding onto a pole and both instructors would be right there.
I don’t know about everyone else in the class, but this did not calm my fears one little bit, and as the lesson time wound down, my anxiety wound tighter.
Way before I was ready, we were lining up behind the diving board. I kept slipping to the back of the line, putting off the inevitable.
The other instructor, noticing my fear, offered to jump with me. On shaking legs, I slowly climbed the ladder after the instructor. Together we put one hand on the handle of the long pole.
“On the count of three,” she said. “One, two, three…”
Instead of jumping on three, I shoved the instructor in and grabbed onto the diving board railing. That was the end of my swimming lessons.
But just because I was afraid, didn’t mean I didn’t want to swim, though.
Over the years, I would go to the pool or the beach or parties, and watch in envy as other kids seemed to have a blast. They would hurl themselves from diving boards, shrieking with delight. They’d zip through the water, playing Marco Polo or tag.
All the while, I would cling to the side of the pool, paddling my feet, pretending I was swimming.
But I wasn’t. I would never really swim, never experience the unique freedom of being in the water until I let go of the side of the pool.
Enter my dad. He was an awesome swimmer. He could walk across the bottom of the pool on his hands which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. It definitely gave me street cred with my little friends, too. After all, none of THEIR dads could do that.
Instead of making me climb up on a diving board and jump into the deep end, my dad spent many hours with me in the shallow end of the pool. At first, he would keep his arms underneath me as I kicked away. With him holding onto me, the water held no fear for me.
Then he used one arm.
Then he used one hand.
Then, I was swimming across the shallow end with only his finger under my chin.
When he finally took that one finger away, I panicked. I started thrashing around. Immediately, his hands reached out to hold me and my panic went away.
We went back to one finger under the chin for a few minutes until he told me he was going to take his finger off. I protested, but he told me to just watch him. He assured me he was right there. That he could reach out to me at any moment. He would not let me sink, much less drowned.
So, keeping my eyes trained on my dad, I swam the length of the shallow end. You would have thought I had just won an Olympic gold in freestyle when I finally reached the other side – all by myself.
The difference between success and failure in this case was trust. The simple truth was I trusted my dad to protect me and keep me safe. Those instructors, as nice as they were, couldn’t even begin to compare.
This year, the word God keeps pressing on my heart is TRUST.
As I step into this new year, I have a lot of things going on in my life that require trust. From my writing, to my children, to friends and family that are struggling, God is asking me to trust Him.
It’s so easy to say we trust God, but walking it out day by day is a lot harder, isn’t it?
Worries, fears, what ifs – they can all make you doubt. But when I cling to those things, I limit what God can do in and through me.
Sometimes, it’s hard though, to simply trust and obey, though. It feels a lot like letting go of the side of the pool and kicking out to that scary place – the no man’s land of the middle of the pool where there are no sides to cling to. But I will never know the freedom that truly trusting brings without doing that.
Without letting go, you can’t glide through the water; you can’t experience the wonder of flying through the air to land with a splash, and then shoot back to the surface. You miss the joy an exhilaration that comes from just letting go.
So, I am left with a choice to make. I can continue to cling to what feels safe, or I can take God up on His invitation to trust Him.
My choice doesn’t change who God is, but it certainly changes how I live my life. I don’t want to miss out and stay stuck, clinging to what feels safe, while never really experiencing all that God has for me.
How about you? Has God given you a word for this year? I’d love to hear about it!