Recently I’ve been remembering my school swimming lessons, from when I was about 10 years old. I hated them! I still don’t like swimming much … unless it’s in an open air private pool at a villa in Crete, in hot mediterranean sunshine.
I’ve been studying, for an essay, and what I was reading and learning about got me thinking. I found a paper on how as a Christian, the work of the Holy Spirit fits with the ‘Object Relations counselling theory’, and … this is how I got to thinking about my swimming lessons. Stay with me, I will explain.
You see, ‘objects’ are significant people in our lives, at birth that’s our mother (or other significant primary caregiver), and how we think about those people, the experience we have, helps us (or not) to healthily learn to differentiate between good and bad, safe and not safe etc and forms who we are, how we behave, the life choices we make and who we grow up to become. Our early relationship experiences are very important in our own development, and in how we mature in character.
How we view God, as Christians, also fits with the same theory, and actually our idea of God can change with our different experiences throughout our lives, but very much affects how we mature as Christians. Sometimes how we see God is healthy and good and sometimes it isn’t, and we can oscillate between positions of what God is like depending on what’s going on for us at the time. Maybe it’s easy to think of God as good and kind when things are going well and all in the garden is coming up roses – but what about now? When the world is topsy-turvy for all of us, plans have been shattered, some of us have lost loved ones, uncertainty and threat seems to hang in the air like a bad smell. What is your God-image today, right now?
Who is He for me?
I remembered the man who used to be the swimming teacher at my local swimming pool, and truly, to me he was a monster. I’d heard the stories from the bigger kids, those who’d done their big-pool swimming lessons the year before with the same swimming teacher, and how he would line everyone up at the deep end of the big pool and push them in from behind. Oh how my knees knocked as I stood shivering in my swimming cozzie, with my shiny, squeaky, talc-filled, rubber swimming hat stretched unbecomingly across my unhappy scalp. He called me Kojak, that day, singled me out and called me over to be the first to show everyone how it’s done. He told me to jump in. I didn’t. I was too scared (I’d got my 25 meter badge sewn onto my costume, but even that didn’t make me feel brave enough) … so he pushed me in. But something kicked in in that horrible moment, I remember feeling angry, not scared, and refused to drown, so for a second I let myself sink, but then started to clumsily swim my way back to the surface, gasped for air, coughing and spluttering but determined not to show the monster that I was scared or upset, lest he should pick on me again another time. I swam. To Safety, as far away from him as I could manage. It was a horrible experience and I couldn’t wait for the six weeks to be over.
I wondered if I had ever thought of God in this way, and yes, I think I have. Times when I’ve felt alone and abandoned by him, struggling – times when I’ve felt like he’s ignored my prayers to save me from difficult circumstances and instead it’s felt like he has pushed me in anyway, standing on the side, uncaring. In all honesty, I have to say, yes, I have experienced times like this. But, every time, God has shown me that my perception was wrong, that that’s not who He is. We might have to face difficult, sometimes horrible life circumstances, but God is not the one standing poolside pushing us in, He’s right there in the water waiting for us, waiting to encourage us safely to the surface. He knows we are going to be pushed in, but not by him, and he is there to swim with us, even through the coldest, stormiest waters, and won’t leave our side until we are safe.
Just as a good parent’s job, is to prepare us, lovingly and healthily to find strength within ourselves to cope with the fact that life isn’t always easy, so that we don’t just sink when things get tough, the Holy Spirit of God helps prepare us spiritually to cope when the waters start closing over our heads. God is with us, through it all. Most parents don’t have the power or resources to grant our every wish for us as children, it wouldn’t be healthy for our development as strong human beings in a tricky world if they did. God doesn’t always protect us from difficult, sometimes horrible circumstances, but, he does promise to meet us in them and be there all the way through, whatever the outcome. God teaches us to swim from right there in the water with us, teaching us how to strengthen our stroke, and how to stay safe in the deeper water.
When we are praying, especially during the 2020 lockdown and all that that means for us, we would do well to remember that God is our source of strength and courage through difficult times; that he is for us, not against us, however difficult things feel. He will see us through.