PLYMOUTH, MI – As a six-year-old boy there are few things as important as being able to swim in the county pool during the blistering hot summer months of West Texas. Fortunately, we lived in a wealthy county because of the tax revenue from the oil fields, but the vast majority of the people were common laborers who subsisted on limited incomes. The city fathers made sure that this little community had many of the advantages of much larger towns and cities.
Because we were situated in one of the driest and most desolate desert regions of our country, the leaders in our town provided one of the finest parks in the state in order to give us a retreat from the unbearable heat. There were lush tall trees surrounded by acres of thick green grass. Tennis courts, ball fields, picnic tables and playground equipment covered the massive acreage, but the centerpiece of the park was it’s Olympic-sized pool. It was a cool, clear oasis in the middle of the desert.
Every summer that I can remember, the pool was the center of attraction for this tiny arid hamlet. Hundreds of boys and girls splashed and swam in the refreshing waves from opening hour until closing. Eight o’clock each morning, except for Sundays, herds of children would line up for swimming lessons. Towels in hand and swimsuits adorned, they followed their instructor to the water's edge and waited for their commands.
Anxious mothers sat in the covered bleachers as they talked away the morning, and watched their water babies bob in the sparkling liquid sun. Step by step the instructors would take them through the various stages of learning to swim. Blowing bubbles, the “turtle float”, dog paddles, and finally full-fledged swimming.
The water was only two feet deep at that end of the pool and swimming was fearless since the bottom was just at toes reach. It was great fun, but some of us longed for the day we could go to the “deep end”. That mysteriously, wondrous place where all the big and brave kids swam. The place where even a few brave souls soared into the air from the low, medium or high diving boards and then headlong into the abyss.
I will never forget the day our instructor said, “tomorrow, the deep end.” A collective gasp was heard from our wet, little huddle. Mouths and eyes were wide open with unbelief. Fear, excitement, and shivering trepidation all coursed through my being. The day had finally come that I had both longed for and dreaded. Tomorrow, the deep end! Just think of it. What would it be like? Would I survive? Would it be fun? What would it bring? Tomorrow. The unknown.
Many of my little buddies refused to go to the other end of the pool. They liked the security of the shallow water, and their mothers didn’t want them there either. They stayed in the shallow end and splashed the rest of the summer away, but I knew where I was heading. I knew there was more.
It is obvious that I survived that “tomorrow” and conquered the deep end. It was a great adventure, and one of those memorable experiences of life. We are now living in the midst of one of those memorable experiences of life as we all walk through this pandemic of COVID-19. Talk about jumping into the deep end of the unknown! We have never been in this situation before, and prayerfully we will never experience this again.
We have no idea how long this will last or the depths of residual damage that will remain once it has subsided. One thing I do know is that we will be forever changed. Much will change, but not all of that change is bad. I believe with all my heart that God is using this and will continue to use this crisis for our good and His glory. He has pushed us out of our comfortable pews and into a world that we have been commanded to reach with the Gospel. He has forced us to depend on Him and trust His Word. Some of us for the very first time have come to truly understand that this is His church and not ours.
God has forced us into the deep end! We can no longer remain in the shallows and just wade and splash. Now is the time for us to get out of our comfort zones and dive into the depths of His wonder and grace. Scary? Yes! Is it new and different? Yes. Will everything ever get back to normal? Yes, but it will be a new normal.
The great news is that each and every day we begin again brand new. Each new morning gives us the opportunity to start fresh and new. What will this day bring? Will I just survive or will I thrive? Will it be fun, or will it be filled with failure.
The answer to all of these questions and more lies in the future. The question is, will you remain in the shallow end, or will you determine that on this new day, “the deep end.” Most of us have waded around in the shallow end of life far too long, and if we don’t do something soon, that is where we will stay. Shallow. God has the depths of His love and grace for us to swim within. A bit fearful?
Come on in. The water’s fine. Put your toes on the edge, lean forward into His arms and jump.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Patterson is Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Elected unanimously in May of 2015, Patterson formerly served for 9 years as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He also served as trustee chair and national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board.