In a pool she always found to be too cold, our daughter may not have received the full benefit of swim lessons. Still, her purple lips chattered happily every time she jumped into the water. In one of our favorite home videos, this wiry little four-year-old learns how to float on her back — or tries to learn. The teacher puts one hand beneath her spine and the other behind her legs as he coaches her to relax. His promptings for her to stay in a flat position seem to have little effect. Every time he withdraws his arms, her tense little body reverts to a V-shape and sinks in panic.
It’s a lot to expect a four-year-old to understand the physics of water enough to know that the human body can float on its surface. Yet for this buoyancy to work, one has to be relaxed enough to trust the capacity of the water to keep one’s body mass afloat. This is hard to do when you fear going down. Fear of drowning can cause anyone to tense up and thrash in the water.
As a pastor, I’ve noticed a lot of people over the years turning an otherwise significant faith life into a mostly panic-driven affair. It happens especially when anxiety is high or some diagnosis has brought one low. But it can happen anytime. The slightest new situation will twist a relaxed disposition of faith into one of mental strain and spiritual expenditure. If I believe hard enough or plead urgently enough, maybe God will come through.