What if I breathe in while I’m under the water?” That thought might seem strange to you, but it is exactly what I was thinking when I got back in a pool for the first time since my youth.I was starting swim lessons at our employee health center and the instructor had asked each of us to demonstrate to her our swimming skill level. Though I had been able to swim well enough as a child to make it across the pool one way without drowning, I hadn’t done more than wade since then. I had been standing in the water against the side of the pool waiting for my turn, so when the instructor turned to me and signaled for me to go ahead, I surged forward…only to realize I could only helplessly flounder in the water. I not only couldn’t come up with any swim strokes, I could no longer tread water or even figure out how to hold my breath.
I probably would have had to have been rescued if I had been in water over my head. The swim instructor was very encouraging and kind, but I was relieved when I saw I wasn’t the only one needing to start at the basic swimmer level. I went to the side of the pool to practice dunking my head under the water. At first I just put my face in the water, but I had to fight the fear that I would breathe in. Finally, I learned to blow my air out into the water and lift my face back out of the water for another breath. I did this for the whole first lesson…breathe in…put my face in the water and blow out…lift my face out of the water and breathe in…face in the water and blow out. Finally, toward the end of that first lesson, I was able to dunk my whole head under water and bob in and out of the water.
I continued the basic swimming lessons and got good at floating and learned to tread water again. I even got so that I could take a few strokes at a time. When those lessons were over I came to the pool on my own for a month or so, but winter came and I couldn’t convince myself to go out in the cold Minnesota weather to go swim. It was four years before I attempted to swim again. This time I was by myself in a rarely used hotel pool. There was no instructor and I stood by myself in the shallow end of the pool. Once again, fearful thoughts of breathing in while under the water came to me. I finally pushed myself away from the side and took my first stroke. I floundered a bit and stopped. I tried it again. I was able to take three strokes this time before I had to stop and adjust my earplugs and goggles. I kept at it, but I had to keep stopping because of water getting into my my nose and dripping down into my lungs. A couple of times the teaspoon or so of water that found its way into my lungs caused me to choke very badly and I was fearful again. I stayed in the pool for about thirty minutes, not accomplishing much and not really enjoying myself either. I climbed out of the pool with difficulty, my water logged swim gear weighing me down. In the restroom I struggled out of the many wet layers I wore for modesty. (Hey, I’m apostolic. I wear more swimming than many wear shopping.) I then headed out into the subzero weather and into my cold car, my long, wet hair, in its shaggy, wet bun, still dripping down my back.
It was not easy to convince myself to go back to the pool, but I knew I had to somehow get my muscle tone and strength back, so little by little I forced myself to go to the hotel, pay my five bucks and get into the pool. Slowly I was able to add strokes to the three I started with on that first visit. I had some setbacks. I ended up with a bloody, red eye from ill fitting goggles and had to wait for it to heal before going back. I bought a better fitting pair which allowed me to look around while under water and some nose plugs so the next time I swam, I didn’t have pool water follow my sinus drainage down into my lungs. I was finally able to actually swim strokes all the way across the pool without stopping. I started being able to do slow laps but about the time I thought I was making progress, I had another phenomenon develop that I had to deal with…I started having fearful thoughts. With every stroke, as I put my face in the water and focused on blowing my air out, a fearful or morbid thought would come to my mind. I would see a shadow in the water and wonder if a demonic spirit was causing it or I would have an intrusive thought of having a heart attack while in the water and drowning. And if I managed to pray off fearful thoughts, then offensive thoughts came to my mind. All the way across the pool I would think of an offense received and how hurtful it was and how unacceptable it was and how painful it was.
There was just no let up. I would worry that I was going to be attacked while in the pool or wonder if I was being watched on camera changing in the bathroom. Got to give it to Satan. There was quite the variety of fearful, morbid or angry thoughts coming at me. Finally I realized, that just like I pray for traveling mercies, I needed to pray for swimming mercies. I needed to put my helmet of salvation on as part of my swim gear. Since most of my negative thoughts came when I was concentrating on my breathing and counting laps, I started to say in my heart, every time my face turned into the water, the number of the lap and “thank you Jesus”. It was “One! Thank you Jesus” with every breath until I got to the other side of the pool, where I would whisper “Thank you Jesus for one lap!” Then I would head back saying “One! Thank you Jesus” with every breath until I was back to where I started. I would finish that lap with a “Thank you Jesus for one lap!” and kick off with a new lap. “Two! Thank you Jesus” all the way there and back, then “Three! Thank you Jesus” and on and on. I no longer had empty thoughts to fill with fearful, morbid, angry thoughts. My every breath was filled with thanks to Jesus and I have finally worked my way up to 29 laps and intend to keep adding laps and improving my stroke and speed.
You may wonder what my swimming progress has to do with you and what I’m getting at. I actually do have a point. You see, we are frail beings on our own. On our own, we don’t even know how to breathe without drowning, but what we are drowning in is a sea of life. We drown in finances, in family problems, or marital problems and we have many fears. We fear loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of even our faith in God. We fear loss or calamity and these fears can end up controlling you.
1 Peter 2:6 tells us, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says that “Christ is called a Stone, to teach his servants that he is their protection and security, the foundation on which they are built”. When we make Jesus our focus, or cornerstone, the Bible says we shall not be confounded. Matthew Henry says this, “Though the frame of the world were falling to pieces, that man who is built on this foundation may hear it without fear. He shall not be confounded.” Another pulpit commentary says this, “And he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. The Hebrew words literally mean “shall not be in haste;” the Septuagint appears to give the general meaning. He that believeth (the Hebrew word הֶךאמִין, means “to lean upon, to build upon,” and so “to trust, to confide”) shall not be flurried and excited with vain fears and trepidation; his mind is stayed on the Lord.” One more commentary by Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary reads, “confounded… ‘ashamed.’ In Isa 28:16, “make haste,” that is, flee in sudden panic, covered with the shame of confounded hopes.”
I guess what I’m saying is that we need to learn to breathe with Jesus through it all. Make Jesus your cornerstone and breathe Jesus into your every thought. Though your children walk away from God or your spouse walks away from the marriage, let Jesus be your very breath. Though you suffer loss or calamity or are paralyzed with the fear of loss or calamity, if Jesus is your focus or your cornerstone, there is nothing life can throw at you that you cannot overcome with his strength. Make Jesus your cornerstone, the focus of every thought and fear will have no power over you. You will not be confounded, though the seas roar or the mountains flee away. Put your trust in Jesus. Make him your cornerstone and with him, you will be immovable.