When I was six or seven or eight, my mother enrolled me in swim class at the big pool at the high school. There had been other swim classes, but this was the year to learn real swimming, the grown-up strokes, the ones with exotic names like “freestyle,” “backstroke,” and “breaststroke.” At the end of the class, we had the opportunity to earn a proficiency certificate from the American Red Cross, or so I remember.
The sensory imprint remains three decades later when I close my eyes: the clammy concrete floors, the air heavy with humidity and the acrid smell of chlorine and rubber swim caps, the enveloping grey not dispelled by the half-hearted fluorescent tubes.
Everything went well until the challenge to swim the length of the pool. That started well enough, pushing off from the shallows, reaching and kicking in rhythm, twisting my head right to breathe as my arm swung forward. With the help of the navy lane markers on the bottom of the pool, I even steered straight enough.
Then the color changed. The light aqua water I stared down into suddenly deepened to turquoise. I was entering the deep end.
I panicked, froze, flailed, reached for my teacher. Was I tired? Out of breath? Did my muscles spasm? No, no, and no. I was simply scared of the deep end.
It was irrational, and even then I think I knew that. I was no more able to stand in five feet of water than 10; however, I was no more able to unscare myself of that dark blue beneath, that letting go of the security of the shallow end.
My kind, no doubt also frustrated teacher let me try again and again until we ran out of classes. I never did succeed at swimming the length of the pool. I might have made it halfway up the stairs of the high dive.
These last nine months my Father has enrolled me in a different sort of swim class: clammy hands instead of concrete, surrounded by the sterile scents of stainless steel and rubbing alcohol, under the same fluorescent tubes. I have been staring into the deep end of multiple chronic illnesses and often scared.
This time, though, there has been no chance for retreat to the safety of the shallows or the security of the side. Maturity means moving past the middle to the depths, and maturity is where He intends to take me. I have a daily choice: to hold onto my fears and tread water where I am or to hold onto my Companion-Teacher and swim forward together.
I am not good at letting go, but I must let go of the fear to take hold of Him.
Day by day, breath by breath, I’m practicing my grown-up strokes and pressing onward to the other side.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).