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.