My daughters learned to swim at early ages. All three of them could swim alone and underwater by the time they were 5. Me, though? I didn’t learn to swim until I was around 9 years old. I didn’t grow up with any-time access to a pool, so my swimming adventures were often in shallow lake waters.
Once, I went with my cousin to a nearby state park beach where my uncle tried to teach me to swim. He positioned me stomach down on the palms of his hands, but I was far too scared to let him show me how to swim alone. On the occasions when I got to swim in friends’ pools, I hovered in the shallow end.
I don’t even remember the moment I learned to swim. I simply have memories of not knowing how to swim and memories of swimming. Once I knew how to swim, I stayed in deep water because, you know, deep water is more fun. You can dive into deep water or do a cannonball or a bellybuster or a flip. Deep waters are an adventure when you know how to navigate them. So I’d occasionally play in the shallow waters with my feet planted beneath me; but eventually, I’d venture back out into the deep end where my entire body was immersed.
For the first thirty years of my life, my faith was safe. I knew what I believed because I believed what I’d been taught. Abiding by rules is safe. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is safe. Living with a black and white perception of life is safe. That kind of faith is less about faith and trust; instead, it’s more like playing in shallow water where you depend on your feet to hold you up.
Once I started wading out into deeper waters of faith, it was hard to go back and stay in the shallow end. Rules suddenly didn’t make sense. Having a strict sense of right and wrong based on that set of rules became rigid and unloving. The dividing line between black and white became the line in the sand between Jesus and me. Playing in the shallow end where I depended on myself became boring and unfulfilling.
I’ve plunged into the deep end of faith. Some call it heresy. Call it whatever you like. Life is an adventure out here. It’s where you get to live from your heart, not by a set of rules. It’s where love overrules overbearing condemnation. It’s where black and white turns into a kaleidoscope of colors. It’s where dividing lines are crossed and everyone is embraced. It’s where grace gets the last word.
I’ve tried to go back to the shallow end of faith, but playing it safe leaves my spirit weary and worn out. I’ve heard that feeling called “the holy discontent.” It’s what motivates us to change, to make a difference in the world. It’s what pushes us toward the deep end.
The deep end of faith is satisfying. There’s something holy about being able to set aside differences in order to embrace humanity. There’s something holy about accepting people where they are without asking them to change to fit our beliefs. There’s something holy about living in grace — a grace that requires nothing of us, a grace in which we are welcome to give up and to simply enjoy life.