Swimming Along

Summer is here and after some hard work on my husband’s part our pool is open. My children are ecstatic. They’ve been talking about it for weeks. The older ones are discussing the new tricks they want to try on the diving board while the younger ones are more nervous.

Serious Stuff

Will they remember how to swim? Do we have enough “floaties” and noodles for everyone to have their own? As we sat on the side of the pool before the first big swim of 2006, I went over the rules for conduct and realized that rules for being safe around a pool have a lot in common with the spiritual life.

This is not news to my husband. Every summer when we go for a weekend to the beach he breathes deeply of the salt air and states emphatically that his love of the ocean water is directly linked to the waters of his baptism. While some would say our love of water is somehow due to our evolutionary past — our link to fishy relatives in common but ancient waters — he laughs right out loud. No, our love of the water comes from the River Jordan and the water from the side of Christ.

Perhaps, but in our backyard the love is for a kidney-shaped bowl of chemically treated waters that will soothe hot feet, wash sweat from our brows and give us hours of fun all summer long. The rules for the Watkins’ World of Water are simple but vital. If any child is seen breaking any of the rules he or she will lose water privileges — for an hour, for the day, and perhaps for longer. I remind them again and again that breaking any of these rules doesn’t only mean you might sit out for an hour, but it could mean that you die. Don’t take these rules lightly; they are serious — just like the Ten Commandments.

Play It Safe

First rule: Swim with a buddy. No one is ever allowed to swim alone. Even Mom and Dad must have someone keeping an eye on them from the deck or just inside the house. Younger ones never swim without one of the oldest kids or Mom and Dad right at poolside, but the older teens are allowed to go out with each other. Just like us. We should never go anywhere alone. We need to remember the spiritual buddies God has provided for us when we go swimming in the shark-infested waters of the world. The Holy Spirit and our guardian angels are always there, while extra saints and angels can be called on if a rescue is needed and God, Life Guard Extraordinare, never lets His gaze stray from us.

Second rule: No running on the deck. Take your time and you won’t slip. It is obvious when you’re around the pool but not always as obvious around the office or the home. Take your time, think about what you are doing, what you are saying, and how you are playing. Slipping on the deck, like slipping into sin, is easier than we think. We need to walk through life; taking care around the obstacles and we’ll be less likely to slip and hit our heads or damage our souls.

Third rule: No roughhousing, no pretend drowning, play safe. This rule is hardest when you’re a teen and you think you can live forever. You might try stupid, foolish stuff like drinking, drugs or sex. You might try out life with the rough crowd just to see what it is like. Pretend “drowning” with drugs and alcohol has cost any number of young people their lives. Acting like you’re married when you aren’t has cost young people their entire futures, and the babies that get aborted their very lives. Play it safe — and “safe” means only one thing: Don’t do it.

Someone Is Watching over You

Fourth rule: No jumping off the diving board unless you pass the test. In our house, in order to get permission to dive off the board you have show that you can swim competently. You have to be able to hold your breath a good while and swim one length of the pool without help. In other words, don’t try anything unless you’ve practiced and are ready. It is the same with jumping into a ministry or apostolate without preparing ourselves with prayer and the sacraments. The water looks fine, so in we go. However, in jumping off unprepared we may flounder and, sadly, take some others with us. We end up looking silly and the Church sometimes pays for our foolishness. True, oftentimes when we dive into such deep waters, God the Life Guard is there to pull us out, but it is better to avoid diving in before you’re ready. How do you start getting ready? Keep strong in the sacraments, daily prayer, and reading about the spiritual life and the Church. Even while you are paddling around the shallow end, start preparing yourself for the diving board. God just might want you to jump off tomorrow.

Fifth rule: Don’t forget the sunscreen. It’s hot under the sun and we don’t want any sunburns. Preventative medicine — SPF 40 — is required poolside. In our spiritual life we could use SPF (Sacraments, Prayer and Formation) to avoid the ultimate sunburn of hell. Keep active in the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession. Experts say that we really don’t need to wait an hour after eating to go swimming in order to avoid cramps, but we do need to wait an hour to receive the Eucharist. Maybe we need to get cramps at Mass if we break that rule, to help us remember. Confession keeps our souls buoyant and makes swimming in the world much easier. You aren’t recommended to try marriage one more than once. If you do get married and you are a man, then Holy Orders is out of the question. The Sacrament of Anointing might be needed more than once. But the Sacrament of Baptism is another one-shot deal. The water of baptism, washing original sin away is what got you wet the first time around. And just like my husband says, it is that first bit of water on our heads that keeps us loving to get wet our entire lives. Prayer should be obvious: Keep an eye on the Life Guard, know what He expects and through prayer you will never be far from His protection and saving arms. You’ll see His warning flags if the water gets rough and know when it’s is just not safe to swim. Formation is the practice, practice, practice we do with our minds to keep up in the pool. The more we swim, the better swimmers we are. The more we know, read and form ourselves into the mind and heart of Christ the better Christians we are.

See? Swimming is not much different from the spiritual life. Know the rules, follow the rules and everyone will have fun. Break the rules and you might find yourself watching all the fun from the pool’s edge — or worse.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Rachel Watkins, wife of Matt and mother of 10, is a contributor to the Heart, Mind, Strength radio program and the blogsite, www.execeptionalmarriages.com. She is also the creator of the Little Flowers Girls’ Club, www.eccehomopress.com.

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