Michelle Martin

Sink or swim?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

When I walked onto the pool deck to watch the last five minutes of Teresa’s swimming lesson last week, the teacher was telling her group that if they finished what they were doing, there would be time to jump in from the side.

The small group of children suddenly focused on kicking and blowing bubbles, hoping to have time for the fun stuff.

The thing is, Teresa is 6 years old and has been taking swimming lessons for about three years. For about the first 2½ years, she would have done her level best to delay things in hopes of not having to jump in. She didn’t mind being in the water so much, but that sudden immersion, that loss of control, was too much.

This time, she focused with the rest of the class, eager to get out and walk to the deep end for her chance to jump in. When it was her turn, she pushed off the edge, plunged into water that was far above her head, surfaced, treaded water while her teacher counted out 10 seconds and then swam to the other end of the pool.

I couldn’t have been more proud of her for getting over her fear, or more impressed with the teacher for using the opportunity to jump in as a way to get the kids to swim the length of the pool.

The thing is, she wouldn’t have gotten over that fear if she hadn’t kept trying. It wasn’t that she wanted to keep trying; if I had a quarter for every time she asked why she had to go to swimming lessons when she knew the teacher would ask her to jump in, well, I’d have at least another several dollars. It wouldn’t have happened if her teachers ever gave up on asking her to jump in. They never forced her, but they always encouraged her. They let her move in small steps, from holding both their hands, to holding one hand, to jumping to the teacher in the water, to finally jumping in on her own.

I’m proud, and I’m glad that she’s having fun, and I admire her for willingness to persevere. Maybe the rest of us could use the courage of a 6-year-old when we’re called to do something that scares us, something that might look like a little bit of a risk, might mean accepting we’re not totally in control, but could lead to such an experience of joy.

I recently spoke with a half-dozen priests, deacons and religious sisters about their vocations. Each of them spoke about an initial reluctance to accept what they were called to. They also spoke about the people in their lives who nudged them forward, again and again.

What are you being called to? Does it scare you just a little bit? Are the people who love you, people you know you can trust, encouraging you to try anyway?

Maybe you should keep trying to see if it’s right.