Advent 4: Help in the Deep End


Since the weather turned cold and the possibility that snow or ice will line the edges of our streets grows more likely each day, my husband and I decided to buy a four-month membership at the YMCA in our town. Now, instead of slipping and sliding up and down the roads near our home in subzero temperatures, we run on a second-story indoor track a few days a week.

But in addition to the indoor track, the heated pool offered another wonderful winter perk. I’m swimming again. Or at least trying too.

Two years ago, I joined a gym with a pool near my home in Indianapolis as a way to get in shape after surgery and radiation treatment. At that time, I had endured three open abdominal surgeries, and finding a way to build my core muscles slowly enough to accommodate all the scar tissue was a challenge. Swimming offered the solution. But if offered so much more.

Through swimming, I found a place to quiet myself, a place to focus. In other words, swimming taught me how to breathe.

I could use that lesson again now.

The first night I hit the pool, however, I was faced with a new challenge. The pool at my old gym was three feet deep at both ends, and in the middle, it may have sunk to four feet deep. At most. But I could touch the bottom at all points. In the new pool, I am faced with a deep end.

While I am building back up to “in-shape” for swimming, the deep end surprises me with every lap. My head pivots back and forth for breath as I free-style toward the 9-foot section, and the floor gives way beneath me.

I could drown here, I think to myself. One cramp or a mouthful of water, and I’m a goner.

The waters would engulf me, sweep over me, swallow me alive. That’s how the Psalmist describes drowning in Psalm 124. And I feel that some days, even when there’s not a drop of water around. It’s easy to be engulfed, swept up, swallowed by my circumstances. I live many days as though I’m swimming in the deep end with a cramp in my leg. Helpless.

But though I feel helpless, I am not alone. Though I  feel helpless, I am not unhelped.

See, the Psalmist doesn’t drown, doesn’t get swallowed up, because the Lord is there, pulling him out of the depths. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” he cries.

It didn’t take me too many trips through the deep end of the pool to realize that’s why a lifeguard is on duty. At the three-foot pool they didn’t need one. Each swimmer could look out for herself. But when the stakes are high and the water is deep, it helps to know someone is watching.

Photo by ajari, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.


Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

  • Diana Trautwein ,

    I’m going to a pool these days, too. A physical therapy pool, heated to 91 degrees. And I LOVE it. Swimming is a bit too strenuous for that amount of heat, but I can ‘aquajog’ and do the exercises I’ve learned in PT. I love it. Do you know the author Marva Dawn? She’s a theologian and pastor and she is pretty severely disabled by a variety of disease processes. She swims a lot and in her swim time has memorized ALL of the psalms and says them all every time she does laps. I cannot even imagine. The deep end is scary, but also freeing, I think – dangling is good sometimes.

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Diana – I do know about Marva Dawn. I read a book by her back in the late 90s about missional church, I believe. I love what I know about her. Wow, I don’t think I could memorize while swimming. In fact, part of the reason swimming has slowed me down and calmed me is that I can’t think of much while I am swimming except breathing and pulling and kicking and turning. Over and over and over again.

      A 91 degrees heated pool sounds nice! Our pool at the Y is actually quite warm, too.

    • Megan Willome ,

      I’m so glad you’re swimming again, Charity! And at the moment, I am depressed because my shallow pool is closed until Christmas. As I’ve said in other comment boxes, the Holy Spirit speaks to me in the pool, so now I am cut off from divine revelation when I need it most.

      It’s funny, though. I started swimming in an Olympic-sized pool with a proper deep end. When I moved here, to this shallow pool, it freaked me out. It felt stifling. Sometimes it still does.

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Thanks, Megan. I’m doing more running that swimming, still. I didn’t realize how very much swimming takes out of me. But I’m glad to be getting in shape little by little.

        I love your different perspective on the deep/shallow end. I can see your perspective, too. And I’m coming to love the feeling that I can just hang in the water and let my feet drift below me. There is something very freeing about that.

      • Ann Kroeker ,

        I love being by water or in shallows, but I feel this fear in the deep end. Perhaps I need to go there for that very reason, for the fear, to find the truth and trust in God?

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Part of the reason swimming is so important to me is that is slows me down to the point where I stop panicking. That had always been my problem with swimming before. I think it’s helped me in life, some, too. I can be so manic when it comes to responding to difficulty or change.

          Tell me if you go there, and I’ll come with you!

        • Carolyn Counterman ,