One day last week I helped supervise a group of children from our church as they went to a morning of swim lessons. As I sat on the side of a pool, my legs dangling in the water, I watched one of our girls taking her first lesson (she hadn’t been able to come earlier in the week). My mind stumbled into a flash of memories as she struggled to trust the water and her instructor enough to float on her back.
As I remembered, I could almost feel my mom’s warm hands on my back. Her sun browned arms, much longer and stronger than my own, tilted me back into the water. My ears submerged and everything went muffled. I looked up at the sky and urged my eyes back further so I could see her face. I smiled at her smile and relaxed further into my float.
As soon as I could float the world opened up in a totally new way.
One of my favorite games started with me leaning back. Mom would then pull me around the pool by my feet singing songs and making tug-boat noises. The water would swirl and slosh around me as the sky spun above.
I’ve been thinking lately of the imagery we have in scripture of God as mother.
Growing up in church God was always described as father, so I honestly hadn’t given the idea much thought until it came up during my time in seminary. Even then it was just a blip on my radar. Now, though, it’s coming up more.
I have a wonderful mother; and a wonderful father. I know not everyone can say that about one, or both, of their parents which is why I think it is so important that we acknowledge and engage with all of the images of God we receive in scripture. God is infinitely larger than any one image or metaphor or symbol can contain. For that reason, I believe we are offered a multitude of options to hold up in the light of Christ so we, as finite humans, might discover the nature of God. The hope is that we might relax into a trusting relationship as we receive God’s love and grace.
As I watched the girl in the pool struggling to lean her head back far enough to actually float I considered things from her perspective. Here she was at a large swim club where she had never stepped foot before that day. Here she was surround by screaming kids, blazing sun, and an instructor whose name she had just learned. And here she was being told to lean back until all but a small circle of her face wasn’t submerged in water. The instructor kept tapping her on the forehead telling her to lean back until she felt the water right there. She couldn’t do it though, and I couldn’t blame her.
It doesn’t make sense that our bodies should float. The only way we can find out it’s true is by leaning all the way back. Otherwise, we will sink.
When I was learning to float I couldn’t do it immediately either, but it was my mother’s hands that caught me and gave me the courage to keep trying. After a hard day of learning it was her warm hands and arms that wrapped me in a towel, buckled me into my seat, and steered me home.
What a grace it was to lean back onto my mother’s arms. To know that even when they weren’t touching my back they were never too far away to catch me. These were the arms that had held me from the moment I was born. These were the hands that tried to contain my vomit in the middle of the night after I caught a stomach bug and, when that failed, instead guided me to the toilet where they held my hair out of my face. These were the fingers that cracked eggs into hot skillets or bowls of cookie batter.
Strength, comfort, sustenance. That, and more, is what kept me from sinking.
It’s hard for me to trust God. Hard to lean all the way back and let God guide me around the pool and see things from a new perspective. Hard to trust the strength, comfort, and sustenance that I know is there.
As I sat on the edge of the pool last week and watched the swim lesson I realized that I often imagine God more like an unknown swimming instructor than like my mother.
One of the ways my view of God is shifting is by meditating on scripture through prayer and with the help of the Holy Spirit. I am trying to slow down more often and do this. Sometimes it happens unexpectedly on a morning by the pool, and other times it comes from dedicated study.
The more I do this, in whatever form, the easier I find it is to lean back and trust. I am finding that there is grace in the trying and there is always love and comfort when I panic and plant my feet back on the bottom of the pool.
In case you’re interested…
Lauren F. Winner wrote a book called, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. In it she explores God as a laboring woman as described in three different places in the book of Isaiah. Reading this book has encouraged me on my journey into knowing God more and has beckoned me back to scripture to further explore. If you’re intrigued by this conversation, check out her work. It’s good.