Last summer I stood watching my then four-year-old son trying to learn to float at swim lessons. He’s as scrawny as a wet cat, all skin and bones with straw colored hair sticking out in every direction. I’m thankful for the swim shirt that hides the sharp protrusions of his shoulder blades. He looks vulnerable in the water and full of fear as his teacher gently and then with some force tries to pry off one then the other of the hands that my son has wound around his neck.
He’s on his back now, his torso cradled by the teacher, his head at a stiff angle, tense and lifted from the water as though doing a perpetual sit-up. And that, of course, is what he’s trying to do. Not to float, but to sit-up, get up, in any way he can to be out of the water. The teacher coaxes, “Put your head back. No, I’ve got you. Relax. No, I’ve got you. I’m not going to let you go.”
When his turn is over, he scrambles out of the water clinging to the wall with relief. Climbing and grabbing onto the side are familiar motions, but relaxing and floating are not. I quickly wrap his shivering back with a towel so that he can feel himself again.
* * *
In the weeks leading up to the twins’ birth and in the months after, I had the distinct feeling that my family and I were learning to float in a sea of grace. I was unable to buy groceries or clean the house and friends came on a regular basis to help with those tasks as well as taking our older kids to play in parks and playgrounds so I could rest and care for the babies. Meals were delivered to our house several nights a week for nearly six months.
Several times during those months John or I would break down in the evening after the kids were in bed or on a Saturday morning. We both felt that we were constantly treading water, that it was all we could do to keep our heads above it all.
But at the same time, in the midst of the struggle, we knew that we were being kept afloat by a power greater than ourselves. With time we learned, more than we ever had before, to stop fighting it, to let ourselves relax in the light touch of an unseen hand supporting us from below; to believe that there was more to be gained by giving in than resisting.
* * *On days like today I can feel myself resisting, fighting with everything I have, to avoid the surrender. To avoid letting go and floating again in the ocean of grace that is my life. I know it makes no sense, but I am continually holding myself up, rigid and tight, drawn back from the edge, clinging with all I have. The grace I must learn to live in, to float in, day in and day out, often seems so far beneath me and, like a scrawny cat resisting a bath, I scratch and claw and reveal myself to be all kinds of desperate to not give in.
At some point it becomes clear to me that I can’t keep fighting like this or we’ll all walk away bloody and torn from my clawing.
* * *
“Look, God, I’m floating. I’m doing it.”“Uh, no,” God says, drawing my attention to my arms which are, to my embarrassment, wrapped tightly around his neck.
A tiny “oh,” escapes my mouth and a small laugh at my own expense as God removes my arms and repositions me in the water. My eyes close tight and I try to relax. I think I’ve got it.
“There God. Wow, this feels great. Who knew grace could feel so solid?” I ask, pleasantly pleased.
This time it’s God who laughs, a short grunt of exasperation and my eyes pop open. To my surprise I find I’m clinging like a spider-monkey to the edge of the pool.
You can’t float without trust and so I climb back into the waters of grace, lean back, and do what comes counter-intuitively, all the while trying to heed the voice that says, “I’ve got you. I’m not going to let you go. No. Just relax.”