Deep dive into fear
The little boy stood on the pool deck, his toes curled over the edge. He wore bright orange and blue swim trunks, which was probably what caught my attention. His eyes were covered with goggles and, at his young age, they practically covered his face. He looked intently at the instructor wading in the water below him.
After a few minutes of coaxing, Tomas, his instructor, lifted his arms to the child, who reluctantly grabbed them as he half-heartedly fell into the water. He triumphantly scrambled out and returned to the edge of the pool boasting a demeanor bent on leaping below. He stood there his chest protruding in the fashion of Superman, sans the cape. With his eyes locked on Tomas, he crouched down, preparing to jump. But stopped. Negotiations ensued as his tiny hands accented his monologue. He stepped away from the edge then tiptoed back. Superman chest emerged again, only to disappear when he crouched. The dance routine repeated for nearly 10 minutes as Tomas initiated his own moves, alternating between listening and talking.
The boy maneuvered from the short end of the pool, to the longer side where he resumed his dance: Superman, crouch, negotiation. Finally, unable to tame the beast, he scrambled down the chrome bars and slipped into the water where Tomas greeted him like a celebrity.
I was water walking in a separate pool several yards away and couldn’t quite tell if the boy was trying to figure out diving techniques or was just afraid to jump. But as I watched the interaction between adult and child, I caught myself quietly cheering on the little one. My own sentiments ebbing and flowing as he jockeyed along the edge. Tomas later filled in the gaps that my perspective could not.
“He was so afraid. He has done it before, but today was a setback,” Tomas told me, his own heart aching for his young charge.
As soon as Tomas’ words crossed my ears, I thought, this is how Jesus must feel when we are crippled with fear. Just like Tomas, God patiently woos us, trying to get us to take that leap from the edge. Sometimes it’s a familiar plunge, but fear grips us anyway. Sometimes it’s something new and sparkly, but fear grips us anyway. Sometimes it’s old, familiar and worn, but fear grips us anyway.
Several years ago I was blessed to participate in a 36-hour silent retreat at a local monastery. I was exhausted and relished the diversion of silence as I sought insight from the Lord. I was not disappointed as the Lord led me to this passage in 1 Timothy 2:6-7.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
So often, when we operate in raw power it squelches love, which fosters fear. But when we practice atoning love through the Spirit, He equips us to squelch fear, not love.
What I saw on that pool deck is a living example of how we are to be attentive with others. It is true that the instructor is paid to work with children, but Tomas displayed the type of heart that differentiates a wholehearted leader from one who is logging minutes for a paycheck. Robert A. Fryling, author of “The Leadership Ellipse,” puts it this way:
“When we listen in an active way we are yielding or at least sharing control of a conversation. When we listen for understanding, we are standing under the other person so that the person and his or her story have prominence.”
Even the story of a 5-year-old learning how to swim.