Inner tubes

Swimming pools and me... two things that don’t go together. As I lie in the sun, I’m conscious of the sun sizzling my pale, unnaturally white skin. I feel the freckles forming on my face, popping out in the heat like popcorn on a stove. My body just wasn’t made to comfortably withstand heat, so I inevitably end up in the water — even though I’ll have to put on more sunscreen later. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a swimmer, either, so I prefer to lie on top of a raft or inner tube, dangling my feet and hands into the refreshing water but staying safely, for the most part, above it. (The splashing sounds in the pool help drown out the sounds of my skin turning crispy.)

My husband has always been a strong swimmer, and he doesn’t see much of a need for a floatation device. He will hop out of boats in the middle of the ocean to snorkel, diving down to look at the bright colors, coming up occasionally to check on me as I hesitantly float on the surface, life jacket and goggles and all. He dives into pools, swims along the bottom, and feels no fear. Not me.

I’ve been reading a lot lately in Christian publications about how churches fall short, about how “church” and “religion” have gotten in the way of so many people’s relationships with the Lord. Some people are turning away from church and trying to find God on their own. And if that works for them, that’s great. But I think the church is a lot like that inner tube I hold onto for dear life in the pool. Sure, if you’re a great swimmer, maybe you can navigate through life’s stresses on your own and still stay afloat. And for short distances, you might be more efficient and agile on your own. But sometimes, life is not full of sunlight and happiness. Sometimes there are storms. Bitterly cold rains. Churning, turbulent waters. And sometimes you’re not in a friend’s small pool, but in bigger waters — ponds, rivers, oceans. The distance might overwhelm you. You might be in over your head or choke on water or be knocked down by the waves or even find scary predators hiding below the surface. And when those waters get rough, or when your arms get tired, that’s when you need the security of the church. That the point at which an inner tube just might save your life.

Not every church can be everything to every person, and it shouldn’t be. The church cannot create or maintain an intimacy with God for us. But until we get there on our own, or when we can’t do it on our own, we can depend on the church to help hold our heads above water until we find firm footing again. And when we find ourselves lucky enough to be in a sunny swimming pool, we can focus on improving our abilities so that we’re strong, ready to help the next person who feels like he’s going under.

5 comments:

Jen said...

I really love this. Especially since I see how many people really are trying to live in their own strength, unwilling to YIELD to the intimacy of a body. Unwilling to accept the failures and flaws of others, worshipping their own self-reliance. Funny, I was going to post something about this myself. Love this analogy!

Kelly O'Dell Stanley said...

Jen, it's been a concept I've thought about for a long time. I keep coming across more and more people who do just what you said - let the failures and flaws of others keep them away. I'm a "fixer" - I want to make things better, right away, right now - and it's so hard for me because 1) I can't erase the hurts people have experienced in the name of religion, and 2) I don't understand that excuse as a strong enough reason to keep from looking for something that can be so good. I have plenty of flaws, too many to name, and plenty of my own excuses, so I don't mean that to sound judgmental, but I've been fortunate to have seen enough good within the church body that I want to be a part of that. And I want everyone to get to experience the joys, strength, and security that come from belonging to a church that loves them.

Anonymous said...

Especially good analogy and essay.

Dina said...

I agree with Jen, your analogy is wonderful. Even more so for me because I can't swim. I usually sit on the sides and "watch." Very good post Kelly and much food for thought, reflection and prayer.

Ann said...

I miss my inner tube. And I'm thankful that we haven't had any major storms to weather while we're "inner tube-less". Yet at the same time, I know Christ will never desert or forsake us. We also have "The Church"--a gathering of Christian friends, praying for us (and we do for them). I've been working on lessons about Isaac--the first one is about how long it took for the promise to be fulfilled. So when I start getting impatient, wanting to plug into somewhere RIGHT NOW, I remember the explicit call we were given, and the promise that God will be faithful to complete it.