Fear is ubiquitous in our culture. I’ve struggled with it in many ways, but my aquaphobia best illustrates how prayer eases fear. Had I known sooner, I might have enjoyed many fun times in the water with friends and family. The chance to snorkel with my ten-year-old would not live in the land of regrets.
I Came by My Fear Honestly
We have a saying in my family. When someone exhibits a trait or habit, we might say, “She comes by it honestly.” This saying is appropriate when the person learned the trait or habit from her parents, or it comes from a long line of descendants with the same trait.
I didn’t learn my fear of water—my aquaphobia—from a family member, and it’s not genetic, but I did come by it honestly.
Every Southern California kid needs to know how to swim. Often, I escaped the scorching California sun splashing around our three-foot above-ground pool in the backyard or in the shallow end of the local park pool. Concerned for my safety, my mom signed me up for swim lessons in the third grade.
Swimming Lessons Gone Wrong
The first thing you learn in swim lessons is how to tread water. Survival depends on staying afloat. I gazed across the sparkling water, rippling from the many kids splashing around, wishing I could head back to my comfort zone in the shallow end. But the instructor told me to slip over the side into the seven-foot end, push away from the edge, and tread water. Easy peasy. He carefully demonstrated the appropriate arm and leg movements poolside, so all the students could easily see. Anyone can master the simple maneuver. Everyone floats and this lesson should have been easy.
I followed his instructions perfectly—and sank like a pebble.
With not an ounce of fat on me, I was a skinny little thing back then. Plus I had pitiful lung capacity due to living with smokers. Frantic, I continued to tread water at the bottom of the pool, looking up at the surface where life-sustaining air remained in abundance. I couldn’t return to the top no matter what I did. Then the lifeguard jumped in and pulled me out.
I don’t remember what the instructor looked like, even whether a man or a woman. I only remember what it looked like to be struggling helplessly, with over four feet of water between my three-foot frame and the surface. For a long time after that, nightmares regularly interrupted my sleep. I endured many nights trapped underwater with a sheet of glass preventing me from breaching the surface.
My Phobia Manifested
I did eventually learn to swim, but I’ve never been comfortable in the water. If I ever got in a pool—and I seldom did—I always stayed in the shallow end and my hair and glasses stayed dry. I dog paddled around where my feet could still touch the bottom.
My loved ones never understood this irrational fear. After all, I didn’t actually drown during swim lessons. Randy, my dear husband, joked about my dry hair in the pool. When I fell off my pool noodle during a water aerobics class, my sister wondered what on earth was the matter. My head went underwater, I panicked, and came up crying hysterically. Even though the five-foot-deep pool presented no real danger, I had to get out and refused to get back in—my last night of water aerobics.
One time Randy and I vacationed to Eastern Washington. He wanted to rent a boat on Wickiup Reservoir near our campground. The idea did not thrill me, but I agreed to make him happy. The experience proved no fun for either of us. Me, because I remained in panic mode the whole time, sitting in the front of the boat scanning for submerged logs. I felt certain we would hit one and I’d fly out of the boat. Him, because I kept pointing out every submerged log I saw and screaming that he needed to slow down.
Alone at the Zoo
The year our son, Benton, turned ten, our family ventured to Hawaii. Unlike me, Benton has zero fear of water. He would have ignored the high surf warning signs on the beach if we’d let him. I agreed to let him participate in a dolphin experience at our hotel on the Big Island—he barely contained his excitement—but they had no spots open before our scheduled flight to Oahu.
Randy did some research and discovered a snorkeling trip off of Oahu for the following week. The description said it involved swimming with spinner dolphins. He wanted to book it for the three of us, but I almost had a panic attack just thinking about it. I refused to get out of a boat in the middle of the ocean, even to see a beautiful coral reef.
“You two just go,” I insisted.
“You could stay in the boat,” he replied.
Yeah, that wasn’t going to work either.
While Randy and Benton swam with spinner dolphins, watching colorful Hawaiian fish and holding an octopus, I meandered around the Honolulu Zoo. I love zoos, but not alone.
The next day, they convinced me to join them on a sunset catamaran tour. While Benton hung out on the nets at the front of the boat and Randy videotaped his antics, I cowered in a corner in the back, trying not to imagine the boat capsizing and drowning us all.
I missed out on the snorkeling trip with its cool tropical fish, octopus, spinner dolphins, and more. I missed out on witnessing Benton’s joy on the catamaran. Simply because of fear.
Praying to Overcome Fear
Ten years later, Randy and I planned a trip to Maui. A determination to redeem what I had lost on that first trip overwhelmed me. I felt a strong desire to snorkel and witness the beauty of God’s underwater creation. I knew I needed more than my paltry supply of courage to overcome decades-long aquaphobia.
Four months before the trip, I started my prayer campaign. I petitioned several groups of friends to pray specifically that I would overcome my fear and snorkel. My sisters-in-law, my Bible Study Fellowship leaders’ group, and my friends at church all prayed for me. Every day, I prayed that God would give me courage to experience a successful and enjoyable adventure. I wanted to snorkel, but I first had to conquer this aversion to swimming in the deep.
God Provided Encouragement
Our first day on the island, we rented snorkel equipment for the week, including prescription goggles so I could see clearly what teemed below the water’s surface. In the Westin Hotel pool, I stood in three and a half feet of water and donned my snorkel mask as Randy lounged poolside, patiently waiting for me to put my face in the water and swim. We couldn’t snorkel Black Rock if I couldn’t master breathing through a snorkel tube in this relatively calm environment. He chuckled and snapped pictures as I flapped my lower arms up and down trying to drum up the nerve to breathe underwater.
God is good. He answered my prayer in ways I never imagined. I later realized God had begun answering my prayer twenty-nine years earlier. The night I met Randy, long before I knew it would be my prayer, God knew I would need more than courage—I would need encouragement. So he brought Randy to hold my hand through the experience.
Swimming with the Fishes—Literally
The next day—on my fiftieth birthday—I snorkeled Black Rock just down the beach from our hotel with Randy holding my hand. We paddled around together observing the fish. He continued to hold my hand as long as I needed him to. He pointed to a beautiful eel in the reef, and I motioned toward a brightly colored school swimming below us. We ventured much farther out from the beach together than I ever would have alone.
The one downside of Black Rock for snorkeling is that people frequently jump off the cliffs from above and they aren’t terribly careful about where they land. At one point, someone jumped in two feet from me and I got water in my snorkel. I started to panic, but then I remembered and recited one of my favorite verses—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)—and God’s supernatural peace calmed my heart. I resumed my snorkeling and thanked him for the beautiful underwater scenery and creatures he had created for me to enjoy.
Praying Scripture Eased Fear
When I wanted to get out of the water after only a short swim that first day, Randy didn’t give me a hard time but understood and swam to shore with me. Although we cut our first snorkel short, we ventured out three more times during the week. We took a guided boat tour one day, and I fearlessly snorkeled on my own around Honolua Bay and Honokohua Bay while Randy snuba-snorkeled with an instructor. I encountered Humuhumunukunuku’apu’a’a, octopus, huge sea turtles, Lau Wiliwili-Nukunuku-Oioi, spotted eels, yellow butterflyfish, and more.
On later trips to Hawaii, I’ve marveled at the beauty of God’s underwater creation at Molokini Crater, Kapalua Bay, Hanauma Bay (Oahu), and on the Island of Lanai. What began as a timid attempt to simply float face down in a hotel pool turned into a lifetime of savoring the charm of reef life. I can’t wait to find the next reef or bay to snorkel. My new fearless passion inspired this peaceful haiku:
Relaxing in waves
Sun dappled reef and fish
What season? Who cares
Any season is ripe for a fearless experience. God’s peace truly comes to us in the deep—I can’t explain how—when we pray with thanksgiving for the blessings he has in store for us.
The Blessings of Fearlessness Abound
The fearless life doesn’t end at the shore. It permeates everything I do and everything I write. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). If I begin to fear, I pray for God to ease my fear. I remember the reef and the spotted eel, recalling how God provided all I needed to overcome my aquaphobia and swim fearlessly with a kaleidoscope of sea life.
One of my favorite Christian bands, Casting Crowns, sings a song called “Somewhere in the Middle.” The lyrics reveal how we often have deep-water faith, but stay in the shallow end of life. What a perfect metaphor for my life. Fear kept me from taking hold of the abundant life that God had in store for me. I had deep-water faith, but also intense fear of deep water. Thanks to prayer and God’s faithfulness, I could completely surrender and be immersed in the Holy Spirit, trusting that I needn’t fear the deep end because Jesus will always stay with me.
Closing Prayer to Ease Fear
Heavenly Father, I pray You would ease any fears that plague the one reading this post. Give them wisdom and a peace that transcends all understanding. Help each of my readers trust in You so deeply that fear has no foothold. And bring prayer warriors into each readers life when they need them most. In Jesus’ name, amen.