I’m a pretty bad swimmer. While doing laps with Jules in our gym’s pool, a large Russian man floating around the deep end, literally and seriously asked me if I ever took swimming lessons before. When I smiled and told him that I stopped taking lessons as a kid, he said in his broken English, “I didn’t think so. You’re very bad.” As I tried to laugh it off, his straight face gave me the impression that he wasn’t trying to be funny. As I awkwardly began to head out for another lap, I heard him softly say to himself as he stared off to a distance, “Very bad. He’s very, very bad.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I swam away but let’s just say that his comment influenced my early exit from the pool. The point of the story is that swimming doesn’t come easy for me. I blame it on my dense concrete-like bones but the real reason why I can’t swim for an extended period of time is that I don’t know how to breathe properly when I’m in the water. No matter how many different variations I try, I always find myself out of breath at the end of my second lap.
Out of all the habits I have practiced throughout my life, it’s safe to say that breathing is probably my oldest routine. I’d say I’m pretty good at both inhaling and exhaling, so it makes me wonder why I can’t seem to get it right while I’m in the water. I find it interesting how certain environments can alter the way I express such basic practices. Recently, I attended a Toast Masters gathering, where people in the community come together to practice public speaking among strangers. As I watched each individual come forward to articulate themselves in front of a small crowd, I began to notice how much the crowd’s presence would cause the speaker to stumble. Speaking is almost as old of a habit as breathing is, yet public speaking is known to be one of the greatest fears for many people (Jules wanted you all to know that this doesn’t apply for people who have speech apraxia or other language based learning disabilities, “Just saying” she says.).
Our context has more influence over our lives than we give credit. My confident tone flickers off and on depending on the audience. If I feel safe and highly regarded, words seem to flow faster, but when I feel insecure and belittled, those same words get lost and rearranged behind my feelings of fear and insignificance. It’s as if my need to impress causes me to function less impressively. How ironic.
Our identity and our view of ourselves is challenged every time we step into an unfamiliar territory. We can decide to let the wind of public opinion throw us off our game or we can choose to anchor ourselves in the man or woman God has created us to be. As we grow in the knowledge of our identity in Christ, God will root us into a unique individual with a distinct contribution. We can’t let certain personalities dictate our posture and we can’t keep living up to the expectations of those around us. We can’t let water confuse us from something as simple as breathing and we sure can’t let Russian haters discourage us from swimming. Let them have their opinions. I’m sure you have great things to say and wonderful gifts to share. Be confident in what you have and breathe as if the water isn’t there.