When I was six or seven years old, my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons. At first they were fun. We learned how to tread water, float on our backs and some basic swimming strokes, all in the familiar security of the shallow end of the pool. But as the lessons progressed the instructor had us spend more time in the deep end, forcing us to rely on the skills we were learning. It was a bit scary, but the instructor stayed close.
The Diving Board
Then came a dreadful day: Each of us would have to jump off the diving board into the deep end.
It wasn’t jumping that I feared. I had jumped with gusto into the shallow end. I had even taken a few tentative jumps into the deep end, provided that the side of the pool was within reach.
But the diving board was a good 15-20 feet away from the side of the pool. Jumping off of it seemed like flinging myself into the abyss. I was terrified.
If you had asked me back then why I was terrified, I’m not sure I could have articulated my fear. I may have answered something like, “I just don’t want to do it!” But looking back, I know exactly what I was afraid of: drowning.
A Crisis of Faith
When my turn to jump finally came, I got up on the board, walked carefully toward the end and stood there, scared to death. My fear was immobilizing. I couldn’t jump.
My instructor was close by, treading water. He shouted, “Don’t be afraid! You can do it! You’re going to be okay.”
Now, what was the point in telling me that? The point was that he had equipped me with the knowledge and the skills to swim and besides that he was nearby with the power to help me if I got into trouble. My fear of drowning was unfounded. However, my fear was still distorting my perception of reality and governing my behavior. I was not in real danger, but I still believed that this jump might be my last.
My instructor knew that the only way to cure my fear and rid me of my unbelief in his promises was to get me to jump. My merely knowing his promises wasn’t the same as believing them. Believing them required me to rely on them. Only in jumping would I put the promises to the test and know they were true. My instructor knew that if I jumped, my fear would lose its power over me.
I don’t know how long I stood there debating my instructor; maybe five to seven minutes. It felt like an hour. He exhorted and encouraged me and I was tortured with doubt. It was a crisis of faith. Would I believe my fears or would I believe my instructor’s promises? What I chose to believe would make all the difference in my behavior and in my future.
A Life-Changing Jump
Finally, the scale of my faith tipped from believing my fears to believing my instructor’s encouraging promises. I jumped! It was by no means a heroic jump, but it was a life-changing jump. For when I jumped, I discovered that my instructor’s promises were indeed true and my fears had been unfounded. A whole new dimension of swimming joy began to open up to me. Faith replaced fear, confident action replaced paralysis. I got up and jumped again. And then I did it again and again.
The next week, my instructor wanted me to jump off the board again and the old fear came back. I again had to battle for faith. But this time the battle was not anywhere near as difficult or long as the first. I jumped and the fear was gone. Soon I was diving off the board and later off a high dive at a local beach. I was free from that fear’s grip.
A Merciful Instructor Doesn’t Coddle Our Fears
Back when I stood on the board terrified, my instructor could have coddled my fear. He could have pitied the scared little boy pleading to avoid having to take that frightening jump. He could have come up, put his arm around me, and escorted me back to the comfort and security of the shallow end. I would have been grateful to him that day. But I would not have been grateful later. I would have spent much more of my childhood splashing in the shallows and missing out on the joy of the deeps.
In what deep end are you afraid of drowning? Are you standing petrified on the end of some diving board in a faith crisis while your heavenly Instructor is exhorting you to jump? Is he making precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:4) to you that if you jump, you will discover new dimensions of swimming joy?
Here’s what you need to remember: You will not know the truth or the power of the Instructor’s promises unless you jump. You can stay in the shallows where it’s secure, where you can touch bottom. But he did not teach you to swim for that. What you have learned is meant for the deeps. And you will only know the joy of the deeps if you take the jump.
Your Instructor knows this. That’s why he’s not coddling your fear. Any fear that makes you distrust his promises is distorting your perception of reality and governing your behavior. And it’s robbing you of joy. Your Instructor’s exhortation to do what you are afraid of may feel unkind now, but later you will know it as a mercy.
So go ahead: Jump. Don’t be afraid (John 14:27). You can do it (Matthew 4:19). You’re going to be okay (Romans 8:37). Your Instructor is close (Hebrews 13:5) and won’t let you drown (Philippians 4:19). It doesn’t have to be a heroic jump. But it may well be a life-changing jump.