Sunday, June 14, 2009
Fear, Love, and Swimming
Last month we did a little family camping trip in Mississippi. I wanted to try and squeeze in a couple of days of camping before the weather got too oppressively hot and humid. And boy did with we score with a couple of the most beautiful days for camping that we could have ordered.
On the second day of camping we decided to pack up some sandwiches and head out for a hike in the woods. After a four mile hike and a picnic in the woods we were ready for a swim. So we all put our bathing suits on and headed over to the little lake by our campground.
This was the first time Ezra had been swimming since last summer so I wondered how it might be when he jumped in the water this time. Well he sure didn’t seem afraid to get in to the lake… that is until he was in it. In the chilly, dark waters where he could not touch the bottom he immediately began to panic and cry for me to pull him out of the water. So I reluctantly reached down and pulled him out of the lake and back on to dry land. I was reluctant to pull him out because I knew that he could swim. Just last summer he was swimming all over a lake that was 10 times the size of this one, and loving it! I have to be honest once I pulled him out I was very tempted to throw him back in. I know this may sound cruel, but it was what I was thinking. And believe me I didn’t want to throw him in to be cruel but because I believed he could actually do it. I was frustrated to see how his own fears were robbing him in that moment of the joy of swimming in the lake.
But as with many other times where God has revealed himself in the context of swimming with my kids, I really sensed God reminding me of how he deals with each of us in our fears. The truth is that while God leads us he never forces us or violates our will in the process. The one word that conveys the attributes of God more than any other in the Bible is—Love. And it is this divine love of God embodied in Jesus that actually has the power to transform each of us from within. The power of love is not in the enforcing of rules and codes and conformity but by subverting the very structures of power in the world with something far greater that get’s at us from the inside out.
The apostle Paul wrote about the attributes of love this way (Message Translation by Eugene Peterson)…
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
This list of the attributes of love is no doubt inspiring but is nonetheless depressing when I look at my own life. I know that on my best day I don’t have this kind of love in and of myself. But I do want to be the kind of person that has this type of love.
So if I lack this kind of love how might I get it?
By trying harder?
By working some kind of formula?
By reading self-help books?
No! Because even if I stumbled onto what appeared to be love—putting others first or caring more for others than myself, it could be from such a horribly dark motive such as pride. In reality this appearance of love wouldn’t be love at all but the feeding of my own ego.
No, the only way to this kind of love is to first realize that I don’t have it, then to realize that God does and that he offers it to me, and then finally to embrace the reality of this love. This, by the way, is at the heart of the good news of the gospel. The wonderful thing is that when I am open to this divine love, it begins to change me ever so slightly on the inside. It begins to overcome the need within for the approval of others, the need to be first or the best, and it changes me ever so slightly into a person who loves.
Back to the lake…
I didn’t throw Ezra back in the water… and as hard as it was I didn’t try and pressure him. I just told him that I knew he could do it and left it at that because in that moment I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit that this is the way of love. I could have thrown him in, and he likely would have swam, if only out of fear for his life... and I might have got the results I wanted in that moment… but at what cost? The truth is it didn’t take more than thirty minutes before Ezra was back to swimming again just as he had last summer. But even if he had not ended up swimming I am convinced that simply loving him in that moment was far more important, and far more redemptive even though it wasn't my first inclination.
Each day we will encounter situations in which we can employ fear, force, threats, and manipulation to achieve the things we want and in doing so we will just perpetuate fear, anger, and alienation. But there is a better way, a higher way—the way of love… and love, the God kind of love, changes everything!