I don’t know if you ever played this silly game when you were young, but my friends and I thought it was hysterical to pretend we were drowning. Usually in the shallow end. We would jump up above the water, put one finger up, take an exaggerated gulp of air, and dramatically go under. Then we’d do it again with two fingers up. On the third jump, with three fingers in the air, we’d holler something dumb like, “Good bye cruel world!” and pretend to drown. I’m sure the lifeguards loved us.
Sometimes as a single parent, I feel like I’m living in that game. In the past, I’ve had an idealized view of things. I was going to get really good at this single working mom thing. I was going to hold myself and five beautiful children above water with all my strength and wisdom. I was going to be an extraordinary spiritual leader and amazing single mom. I quickly found out that holding it all together without going under was more challenging than I could have imagined. Single parenting has felt like a near-drowning experience for many years. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really get easier…it’s not like you get “better” at drowning.
Or maybe you do…
Because God is gracious and I’ve learned some things…when to shut my mouth so I don’t gulp water, when to close my eyes and give things to God, when to kick hard and push through the obstacles, when to flip and change direction, when to spit in my goggles and clear my vision, when to take a breath, and when to rest on the side for a bit.
I pulled out my most recent journal to remind myself of the ways I’ve seen God working in my life and the lives of my children. To see how I’ve grown. To consider the places where drowning seemed imminent, but I didn’t. Where God opened a lane I hadn’t expected and I was able to move forward without obstacles. I feel like most of the time I’m swimming in a lane set up like an obstacle course. Swim a little. Take a breath. Face an obstacle. Almost drown. Flip turn. Swim a little. Take a breath. Dolphin dive under. Hold breath longer than expected. Race for a breath. Kick to the side. Rest.
But while I was looking at the journal, instantly my thoughts went to, ‘You might have learned things, but boy have you failed at a lot.” Why does my brain go there so easily? Those thoughts push me under like a bully of regret and sadness. I know that I have not failed at everything or even most things. I’m still swimming after all…even if occasionally it’s more like a dead man’s float rather than a strong freestyle stroke.. and definitely not a beautiful butterfly stroke.
It’s easy to get discouraged and want to climb out of the pool, just for a minute. Just to de-prune and dry off a bit. To no longer be working so hard to stay afloat. But Jesus, He doesn’t ever get out of the pool. He stays right there with me and, if I’d let Him, He’d let me and all my children climb on His back and rest or even just grab hold of His arm and float effortlessly for a bit. I feel like more often than not, I’m frantically doggy paddling and saying, “I’m good. I got this!” while also gradually sinking lower and lower. Oh how I wish I didn’t think sometimes I needed to handle everything on my own.
I’m like a toddler trying to take off her floaties and swim in the deep end. Determined to do my own thing all the while putting myself in more danger. I will move unawares or even blissfully into the deep water away from my Lifeguard until my exhaustion and fear overwhelm me and I search desperately for Him. Thankfully, God doesn’t throw His hands up and swim away. God doesn’t leave me or forsake me even when I leave and forsake Him. He might let me go my own way for a bit until I get smart enough to run back into His arms like the prodigal daughter I can be, but He never leaves me.
How grateful I am.
I hope I’m not taking this swimming and drowning analogy too far, but all of a sudden it made sense to me. How easy it is to be like Peter and take my eyes off my Savior and go under… nearly drown. Or to ignore His warnings, smile, and backstroke away from Him. I’m ever so grateful that Jesus is always right there. Right beside me. And the moment I turn my eyes back to Him, immediately He grabs hold of me, pulls me close, and keeps me above water.
No matter what, Jesus always always always saves me. No matter my unfaithfulness. No matter my willfulness. No matter my failures. No matter my mistakes. No matter my rebellion. No matter my circumstances. No matter my brokenness. No matter my intentions. No matter what.
I think maybe I’ve figured out how to do this without going under for the third time…I’m still gulping a bit of water, splashing, and occasionally calling for help…but I haven’t put up three fingers yet. I’m pretty positive I won’t ever because I have a Lifeguard prepared to grab hold of me any and every time I need Him.