Life as Treading Water

When I was little, my mother would take my siblings and me to the amusement park and she frequently urged me to get on rides that were …challenging, in my view. I gradually tried some of her recommendations, but the one ride I would not try was the ride where you stood up and went around very fast until the floor came from under your feet.
My mother loved the ride and wanted me to experience its thrill, but I wasn’t having it. I was concerned about falling into or onto the ground. My mother would laugh and explained that centrifugal force would keep me smattered to the wall until the speed of the ride got to a point where the floor would be forced to come back up.

I wasn’t having it. I needed a floor under my feet. In fact, I didn’t go on rides where my feet dangled. I had to have something under my feet; otherwise, I felt too vulnerable.

I had the same feeling when I was learning to swim. I could swim pretty well but when I was told to jump into deep water, I panicked. I had been taught to tread water, but for some reason, not having the floor of the pool to stand on freaked me out.

“Don’t panic! Relax and do what you know how to do! ”my instructor said, but her words of encouragement were really of no use to me.

I need solid ground under my feet.

It occurs to me that many of us may be the same way. We want the security that solid ground gives us. There is something unsettling about not being able to feel that which you believe holds you up and keeps you safe. Many of us will not try new things because we cannot feel the ground under our feet. We feel like we are in deep water, and that feeling is uncomfortable.

That being the case, however, it also occurs to me that those who are willing to tread water, to step out of safe spaces, saucers, canoes, situations, whatever …are those who are really able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” It is in our vulnerability, our places of weakness, that we experience the power and the majesty of God. When we can relax in the midst of the deep water we find ourselves in from time to time, we give God the ability to breathe God’s own spirit into us which gives us the courage to continue treading …and then to swim.

When we are emotionally distraught, when something has happened – something said or not said, done or not done – and our insides are churning, we are in deep water and we are forgetting that we have to tread water, not fight it. When we are faced with a new situation or opportunity and we are filled with doubt and fear, we are forgetting that life is about treading water.

The thought of the depth of the issues in our lives holds us and pushes us back. We give into our fears and our insecurities. We let what people say or don’t say to us or about us, control our paths. We get into spaces where we imagine that the water is deeper than it actually is. We allow the sounds and the challenges, the disappointments and failures, to stop us from even venturing into water that we think is too deep for us.

And yet, it is in the depths of our experiences that we most profoundly feel God. It is when we cannot stand on anything but God and the promise that God gave, that He/She would not leave us comfortless that we begin to understand what this walk is about.

This week, there are literally thousands of people in Texas who are in deep water. Some of them will decide to tread water and others will want to give up. They face the challenge of trying to live again after they have lost everything. We who are on solid ground are compelled to go into their deep water spaces, to gently encourage them to tread water so that they can live and have life – abundantly – in spite of having lost everything.

That means we are compelled also to examine where we are – either fighting the deep water of our own life or retreating to a space of safety. God wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” One of the best ways to do that is to jump into the deep waters of life …and tread.

Amen and amen.

About The Author

Dr. Susan Smith Dr. Susan K. Smith is the former pastor of the Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. She received her education from Occidental College, Yale University, and United Theological Seminary. She is the author of five books and the proud mother of two children.

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