I was finally old enough for swim lessons. I loved riding the bus, singing “The Ants Go Marching” and “A Hundred Bottles of Beer” with my friends at the top of our lungs. Pity the poor bus driver! I savored the way the sun shimmered on the water and the smell of chlorine. I couldn’t wait until the concession stand opened and I could feast on Milk Duds or an ice cream sandwich. You may notice that the word “swim” is not among this list of delights. I was afraid of the water. I spent the whole lesson time sitting on the pool deck wrapped in a towel.
My sister ratted on me, and once my parents found out they launched Plan B. About twice a week the family packed a picnic and drove the 45 minutes to Lake McBride State Park. Dad led me to the water, and with the gradual lake entry I could enter one painstaking step at a time, up to my ankles, then my knees, waist, and chest. That’s when it got scary. But Dad was right there, and Dad could do anything, including save me if I started to sink. Slowly I came to trust the water as well as Dad. I blew bubbles, learned to float, and began moving arms and legs in an awkward dog paddle. Finally, I figured out the backstroke and crawl, and it was time for the big adventure. With Dad right beside me, I swam out into the deep water to the floating dock. I made it! I flopped onto the warm wooden dock exhausted and proud.
Years later Dad confessed, “I am a terrible swimmer. I knew that if you got into trouble the only thing I could do was yell for a lifeguard. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the dock. But I knew you could.” There were more years of swim lessons and I came to love and trust the water, thanks to the patient mentoring of my dad. It took one-on-one attention, classes with trained teachers, the right setting, and lots of practice for me to learn how to swim. It has taken a variety of teachers and settings for me to learn how to follow Jesus, too.
Maybe that’s why I like the book Deepening Your Effectiveness by Dan Glover and Claudia Lavy. It describes discipleship using the metaphor of a beach. People start out shivering on the sand, then might dip a toe in, wade out a little further, learn and practice new strokes, and finally splash joyfully in the deep water of life with Christ. And the authors provide ways to help us learn to swim in the deep water of discipleship.