This summer, we enrolled in swimming classes as a family. We got to learn a vital life skill together while spending quality time with each other. We eagerly looked forward to our time in the pool thrice a week and the inevitable post-swim chai.
Little did I know that swimming would teach me life lessons that reached far beyond the blue tiles and chlorinated water! Here are just a few things swimming taught me about life, and spiritual disciplines in particular.
Recreational swimming is not a competition. The only person I had to compete against was myself. So, if I wanted to swim farther, or hold my breath longer, I only had to challenge myself against what I could do the previous session.
Isn’t that the same with our spiritual lives? We aren’t competing with someone else – we're only trying to be better than who we were yesterday. I don’t have to finish reading the Bible in a year or spend hours in prayer just because others are doing it. I can pray and pick those disciplines I believe the Holy Spirit wants me to grow in and focus on them with His help.
Just as swimming comes down to breathing and rudimentary hand/leg movements, it's the basics that lay the foundation for spiritual disciplines. I’m privileged to have learnt some basic practices at a young age that I come back to time and again. Here are a couple of acronyms I follow – especially in busy seasons or when I need a reset:
ACTS (for prayer) – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication
SOAP (for Bible study) – Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer
When we know the basics, we can always build on from there. And when we’re stuck or thrown off routine (let’s face it, we’ve all been there!), it’s easy to get back with the foundation in place.
A swimmer has to simultaneously pay attention to a lot of things. I had to find a comfortable breathing rhythm and coordinate my movement if I didn’t want to come up panting every two strokes. I saw a lot of experienced swimmers who moved gracefully but each of them had their own rhythm. What works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else.
I’m so grateful we have the freedom to find our own rhythms with spiritual disciplines. There are no hard and fast rules on how we adopt habits that help us grow in faith. When it comes to my quiet time or acts of service, I can find a system that works for me so I can sustain these life-giving spiritual practices in the long run.
Whether I was learning to breathe underwater in the shallow end, or nervously splashing around at the deep end, I know the time I spent in the pool mattered. It took me several months to swim a whole lap without stopping in the middle to gasp for air. It’s a fundamental principle really: The more time we spend doing something, the better we get at it.
When I expected to find deep insight during my time with God and didn't get it, I used to feel disappointed. Now I know that not a minute spent in the presence of God is ever wasted. God uses it all to strengthen me from the inside out – one day at a time.
I’ve probably read dozens of articles on rest but I had a practical application of how important rest is while learning to swim. After I finished my first full lap, I found myself breathing so hard I couldn’t head back across the pool immediately. I had to wait till my breathing calmed down before I could swim back.
The more relaxed I was, the farther I could swim. And I learnt to come up for air at regular intervals so I’m not gasping and panicking when I run out of oxygen.
In the same way, if I want to function well and be a good steward of my life, I need enough rest. (Sheryl has written about the different types of rest along with an assessment you can take here.) When I'm feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I know it's imperative for me to calm my mind and retreat to a quiet place till I feel at ease. That’s just the type of rest that fills me up and empowers me to carry out the duties God has entrusted me with.
I’ve had busy seasons as a mother of triplets when I could barely catch my breath, let alone build spiritual disciplines. But in this season with teenagers who’re mostly self-sufficient, I’m learning to follow God’s leading and build habits that strengthen my spiritual life and help me draw closer to Him. Swimming is just one of the activities that’s helped me on this journey.
What spiritual lessons have you learnt from a routine activity?
Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash
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