Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
In the spring of 1975 I was in my final semester at Houghton College in upstate New York. With only a couple of weeks remaining before graduation I was eager to complete my course requirements. Only one class remained to complete my Phys Ed minor: swimming. This will be my easiest class ever, I thought.
I had spent considerable time in the water in my “growing up years.” I learned to swim at the YMCA as a young boy. As a teen I swam with friends in lakes and backyard pools. Many family vacations were at the ocean where we body surfed in the waves. My dad would lay out on the water and float like a cork – something I often tried but could never master.
My college swimming class was taught by Coach Robert Rhoades. I had known Coach since my freshman year when I tried out for basketball. He was an imposing figure, about five inches taller and perhaps a hundred pounds heavier than my 6’ 4” 180 lb. frame. He coached varsity basketball, so during my two years on the j.v. team I was with him often in practice, at games, and on road trips. Coach had a pleasant personality – never angry, but with a no-nonsense approach to education and sports.
At the first swim class Coach Rhoades reviewed the syllabus. “This course is Pass-Fail. In order to pass you must demonstrate mastery of the basic swim strokes: crawl, breast, butterfly, side, and back.”
Piece of cake, said I to myself.
“And you must float unassisted for five minutes.”
Uh oh. I can't float!
As the weeks went by Coach checked off each of my swim strokes. As the semester drew to an end he stood by the pool, clipboard in hand, and reviewed the progress of his students. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Taber, I haven’t seen you float yet.”
“Ummm, Coach, I can’t float.”
“What do you mean? Everyone can float!”
“Honest, Coach, I’ve tried…many times. As long as I can hold my breath, I can stay above water. But once I exhale, I can’t get enough air in my lungs quickly enough to keep my nose out of the water. If I can move my hands or feet, I can push up enough to get more air – but that’s not the ‘dead man’s float’ you say we have to do.”
“Let me see,” he said.
I inhaled and exhaled several times, then filled my lungs with as much air as I could, and lay back on the water. [Back then I could hold my breath for over three minutes; four is my record.] When my chest heaved from lack of oxygen, I exhaled hard and grabbed air as my body sank below the surface. Now only a bit of my face remained above water – but not high enough to keep it out of my nose.
I sputtered and surfaced. “You see?”
“Try again,” he said. I did, with the same result. And again. And again.
“I see what you mean,” he said. “Your body mass index is low.” [Those who know me today will have to take this by faith: back in the day I was skinny as a rail without an ounce of body fat.]
Coach pondered a minute. “Look, you have to float to pass the class.”
“I know. But I’ve never been able to float – even in the salt-water ocean,” said I.
Coach was sympathetic. He saw I had tried. And I had completed all the other course requirements…. I could see him weighing whether he could give me a pass.
“I have an idea!” He went to the storage closet at the end of the pool, pulled out a styrofoam float board and broke off a couple of hand-sized pieces. “Here, stick these in your swim trunks.”
I was surprised. Is he serious? I stuffed the foam pieces in the back of my swimsuit – and floated without difficulty. All right!
He raised his pen to check off “floated” next to my name…and hesitated. “It says ‘unassisted.’ We can’t honestly say you’re floating without assistance.”
“I agree, Coach. But I have to pass this class to meet the requirements for my minor. Without a minor, I can’t graduate. And I can't float.”
Coach pondered a moment, then changed to his “stern” tone. “Taber, everyone can float. I’ve taught this course for years, and never had a student who couldn’t float. Do you know what your problem is?”
Yes, I thought, I can't float!
As though reading my mind he continued, “Your problem is you don’t believe you can float. You are trying to float, so you tense up your muscles. You don't trust the water to hold you up. That’s why you can’t float. Just lay out, relax, and trust the water.”
He said those words with such conviction that in the moment I chose to believe his words were true. I filled my lungs with air, laid out on the water, relaxed my muscles – and floated. For five glorious minutes I floated, emptying and refilling my lungs, remaining atop the water. I passed!
I’m not sure why it took me until my senior year in college to learn to float. Perhaps it was for no other reason than so I could tell this story. It’s the best way I know to illustrate the difference between trying and trusting. The water could have held me up all along. I had to believe it – and demonstrate that belief by actually entrusting my body to the water, fully relaxing, and not trying to assist.
I often relate this experience to folks who are struggling with trusting God. Perhaps they need to trust Him amidst difficult circumstances. Or they need to place their faith in Messiah’s atoning death for forgiveness of their sins. The biblical answer to “What must I do to be saved” is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
So much of religion sounds to me like “Try harder to do better.” Biblical faith should sound like “Trust Me more.”
Faith is an integral part of life – and the only path to eternal life:
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God. For he who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“You will keep in him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock” (Psalm 26:3-4).
Everyone can float. You just have to trust the water.
Written by: Life in Messiah Executive Director, Wes Taber