On a very hot summer evening over sixty years ago, my dad took me to the beach to teach me how to float. The “beach” was nothing more than a short span of sand along the Prairie River that lazily wove its way through our town. It wasn’t big by any stretch of the imagination, although it seemed so to an eight year old child.
The beach was the coolest place to be in the summer of the fifties when very few people had air conditioners. The river was quite narrow and shallow. An adult could easily cross the river, but for a child my age, it was deep and daunting as you neared the far shore.
I remember clinging tightly to my dad’s neck as he slowly walked out closer and closer to the other shore. The water was only chest high for him but I had visions of deep, really deep water underneath me. He gently pried my hands loose from his neck, instructing me to lay back in the water and let my body float. “Relax!” “Relax!” he repeated, as he placed his hands under my small body to reassure me he was there to hold me. But I couldn’t. Fear gripped me, and as much as I wanted to, I simply could not trust my dad or the water. Eventually he gave up and brought me back to the shore. I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief but also feeling disappointed in myself.
I think often of that incident when I am confronted with challenging situations in my life, when I need to let go, to stop clinging to whatever is my safety net at the time. I know that once I let go God will be there to hold me up. I know I will continue to float on life’s river, but how hard it is to initially do that.
Mark Nepo wrote in The Book of Awakening, “The essence of trust is believing you will be held up if you let go.” At my young tender age, it was inconceivable to me how, by immersing myself in the water with two-thirds of me submerged, that I would actually be held up on the surface. I did eventually learn how to float on my own but not without great effort on my part to release the fear.
Life is so similar. We sometimes have to allow ourselves to be submerged in the sorrow, the grief, the pain, the uncertainty before we can feel the arms of God holding us up. As Nepo says, “We need to rest enough of ourselves below the surface of things until we find ourselves upheld.”
That often requires a great deal of faith no matter how old we are and maybe even more so as we age. We are confronted with more illnesses and debilitations, that of our own and that of those we love. Our loved ones die and we are left alone. Some of us have to give up our homes, and at some point we all have to surrender our freedom, our self-sufficiency and our control. The question becomes how do we keep afloat without letting life’s circumstances drown us. I think Nepo is right in saying that “perhaps faith is nothing more than taking the risk to rest below the surface.” That means to stop fighting and resisting. To accept the inevitable not by clinging tightly to God’s neck but by letting go and floating peacefully in God’s grace and mercy.