One of the things I try to do on a regular basis is swim laps. I’ve not always had the kind of nearly perfect discipline like some of you here, but I do try to get to the pool at least three days a week.
This afternoon I had finished my swim and decided to luxuriate for a few minutes in the hot tub before facing the cold winter weather again. Sitting there, I got to witness a little drama playing out in front of me. There was a young child – probably 3 or 4 years old – whose mother was becoming increasingly frustrated with this child’s unwillingness to venture into the pool for a swimming lesson.
Clearly, there were competing agendas in play. Mom had paid for a swimming lesson. She knew what time it started and how soon it ended. She knew how important it is for every child to learn to swim, to be safe around water, and probably also knew how much joy the water could hold for her child.
The child, on the other hand, knew how scary the pool is, and just how dangerous the water can be to a non-swimmer. The child understood that swimming is not a natural talent, that people are not fish and that clearly she would not be pushed or cajoled or even threatened into the pool.
Watching this drama I was reminded of a couple of things. First, I remembered my own frustration when I found out that I had paid for 6 weeks of ballet lessons for my youngest daughter who spent every class session sitting along the wall, watching the others learn. And I could appreciate that mother’s irritation.
But then I was reminded of something else. When I looked a little more closely at that young girl and saw her ambivalence and her struggle etched upon her face, I was reminded of the very human experience of fear. You could tell just by looking at her – this child wanted to jump into the pool. And, she didn’t want to die doing it.
It is a normal thing for us to fear what we have not yet experienced, or do not know. Even when we stand watching others having the time of their lives. Even when some part of us knows that the new experience, the new adventure, the new territory will probably be a good thing, full of blessings for us, we still may react with hesitation, ambivalence and fear.
It is a normal thing, but it is also a very limiting and potentially life-denying thing if we let our fears alone stop us from risking that new adventure, that new growth, that new experience or territory. In the presence of the swim instructor, or in the midst of the faith community, -surrounded by teachers, family, and friends – we can find ways to enter into the unknown safely. We can find the systems to support us and the mentors to challenge us and the structures to catch us if we fall. But we still have to be willing to take the first step.
Eventually, that mom at the pool gave up trying to force her child into the water. She let go of her hand and walked a few paces away and sat down. Her daughter looked back at her for a moment and then very tentatively, very cautiously moved toward the edge of the pool. Finally, the girl sat down and put one foot in the water and began ever so slightly to splash.
I’m sure it wasn’t the huge success that mom was anticipating from this first day of swimming lessons. On the other hand, I thought it was a victory all the same. One foot in the water… who knows where that will lead?