On the last day of school we had a pool party at a friend’s house celebrating our graduation from the fourth grade. Of course, every one of my friends knew that I could not swim and so the teasing caught the ear of the parent who was hosting us. What was her brilliant solution?… arm Floaties! Talk about embarrassing! I am not sure that any other moment in my social upbringing damaged me more.
In an attempt to rid myself of any further humiliation, I went to our public pool and enrolled in swim lessons. When I arrived on the first day my greeting committee was a group of 6 year olds who were slated to be in my class (yeah, not embarrassed now!). In order to be ready to actually swim, we had to learn all of the fundamentals such as blowing bubbles in the water and kicking our feet while holding the side of the pool; real big kid stuff.
The final morning of our summer swim lessons eventually came, so our swim instructors (good looking high school aged girls) had us all climb up to the high dive. This would serve as our baptismal inauguration into swimming competency. Small child after child leapt without reservation; but not this guy. I was the last in line and knew that the jump was going to be a defining moment in my life. Would I give the bragging rights to a bunch of post-toddler brats who still occasionally wet the bed, or would I rise to the occasion and prove my mature superiority? I was terrified about taking the plunge, but my pretty swim instructor was in the water promising me that I could do it. She gave me the cushion of safety that I needed to get past the point of fear.
After standing ten feet in the air for about ten minutes with every eye on me, I hopped off of the board into what I felt would become my watery grave. When my head popped back out of the pool, my swim teacher was there to congratulate me for pushing through my doubt. Did I mention that she was a good-looking high school aged young woman? Think of the pool scene in the movie Sandlot, and you will get the picture. This pretty girl provided me with a “safe place” to explore and exploit my fears so that when I emerged from the deep, a whole new world of swimming opened up to me.
I realize that there you may be mostly hung up on the fact that I was ten years old when I learned how to swim and to this I say: Thanks for making me feel like a loser by making fun of my childhood woes!… Ok, maybe I would make fun of myself as well, if in your shoes as the reader. I suppose you are off the hook, at least this time. But I hope you also caught a deeper theme in the story: safety.
Safety is of great importance when navigating through new territory in any area of life. Any time risk and doubt are involved; such a journey is terrifying. But, if you are given a safety net during these ventures, enough space to take the next step forward, you will find that on the other side of doubt is hope.
In the same way that safety was present as I jumped off of the high dive for the first time, many of the issues that we face in the Christian life may require some kind of safe cushion. Many folks simply need a “safe place” to authentically wrestle with the questions that are stirring within them. The problem is that many people do not find this within the institutional church. Many think that if they were to take the plunge and risk their safety that others might judge them as not having enough faith in the simplicity of the Bible or of God. Because of this, one of three responses result.
1) A person takes the leap into the deep pool of spiritual questions and drowns in the waters of religion; which keeps its ideas and practices confined to the status quo. This person most likely gives up on church, and possibly even on God.
2) A person takes the leap and believes that there is safety in the waters, that other people in their community will pull them out if they begin to sink… but when the questions go too far into the deep end, those who were supposed to be “life guards” abandon their post. It is only by a sincere struggle that these people will make it out of the pool with their faith in tact.
3) Then a third group could be classified. These folks jump in and find safety in the waters, even in dangerous currents of undertow because they are not alone! Others take on the task of entering into the chaos with them and as a result, beautiful possibilities emerge. Perhaps we could call this group the theological synchronized swimmers (or, Church as it should be!). They wrestle with spiritual questions to the point that together they create a beautiful artistic expression of their common faith in Jesus in the process.
What experiences have shaped your ability to ask hard questions? Do you feel like you have safety in your local church context to take the plunge? What is your story?