Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Parable of the Swimmer

Today a friend and I were talking about what it would take to reach a level of serenity in our lives where we could be in the world and connected, but not brought down by all the trials of life or thrown into despair with every new problem we’re faced with.  It has been suggested by some in recent years that the key to happiness and serenity is to look to yourself to meet your own needs, placing a love for self above others.  The “teach others how to treat you” mentality.  While the commandment we’ve received from the Lord is to love others *as* ourselves, not more than and not less than.  As we talked round and round these ideas, I was struck by a vision in my mind of someone floating on water.  We will call this “The Parable of the Swimmer.”

Parable Overview

Imagine yourself in your favorite pool.  The water is warm, but possibly somewhat tumultuous because this is not just your favorite pool.  There are others in the pool with you.  Lying on your back, your body floats easily and comfortably to the surface.  Your body is completely surrounded on all sides by water, you are connected to your environment.  But you face and nose are above the water.  You are relaxed, letting the water gently caress you, but not overwhelm you.  This is the ideal.

Now imagine the panic rising in the pit of your stomach.  The fear of drowning takes over.  Your muscles tense, you retract your arms into your body, and you quickly start to sink.  The sense of falling and sinking triggers the natural instinct to flail your arms about.  You begin to fight to keep your head above water, but by doing so, a great deal of the water around you goes into your nose and mouth, and you begin to feel choked and overwhelmed.  This metaphorical drowning is more prevalent in the lives of those around you than you would think, and maybe more prevalent in your own life than you would like to admit.

So, let’s break it down.  How do we maintain the calm and serenity required to allow us to float in the trials of our lives while not being overcome by them.  How do we float without drowning?


Relax and Let Go

Lying in water, as soon as we tense up and try to grasp onto anything, we will sink.  The key to floating (and therefore to swimming) is to relax and let go.
In the New Testament we are taught this concept:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:27-32 italics added)

How often do we run here and there trying to control every detail and aspect of our lives?  We have been taught to be self-sufficient, but how much of that self-sufficiency should be a reliance on the Lord?  We cannot will ourselves into the kingdom of God by our actions.  And in more practical terms, it is the Lord who provides our daily sustenance of air, food, clothing, etc.  What more can we add to that?  Now, do we need to work and prepare and place ourselves in the position most conducive to be blessed?  Of course.  But serenity in life can only be reached by letting go.


Let go of the need to control everything.  Let go of the need to understand everything.  Let go of the pride of demanding an explanation from the Lord for everything He sees fit to allow into our lives.  He WILL lift us, buoy us up, and exalt us if we will let the love and grace of His Atonement surround us.  In fact, I would go so far as to say, He already has lifted us through the Atonement which has been wrought in our behalf.  All we have to do is accept it.  Accept His will, and let go.


Look Up

As we float, it is necessary in order to keep our mouth and nose above water to be face up.  Often, swimmers find that if they lean their heads back and look up at the ceiling or the sky, it is easier to float.  In Helaman chapter 8, the story of Moses and the brass serpent has a similar lesson for us.  It was a promise of God to the children of Israel that if they would only look upon the brass serpent, they would be healed of disease and would live.  Verse 15: "And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal."  We often hear the words "look to god and live."  But like the children of Israel, many do not because of the easiness of the way.  It seems too simple, too good to be true.
Elder Carols E. Asay has said: "We, like Israel of old, must rivet our eyes and minds upon...Christ is we hope to gain eternal life...Our looks must not be allowed to wander across the way or to become fixed upon the perishable things of the world.  The eye...must be trained to look upward.  We must look to God and live!" (in Conference Report, Oct. 1978, 81; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, 54)

Back to the pool analogy, if someone trying to float turns or lifts his head trying to look at others around him to compare how they’re doing or is distracted by all of the swimmers around him, or looks down into the tumultuous waters, he will sink. So we in our lives must not compare ourselves to others or allow ourselves to focus too much on the problems around us, being distracted by every new thing. We must stay focused on the Lord and continue to look up.
Jacob 3:1-2: “But behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction.  O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.”

D&C 88:67-68: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.  Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”

That is not to say that trials will not be hard or painful.  But as Elder Carlos Arnado has said: “…there are tragedies that are so difficult we cannot understand them. We do not have an answer in this life for every adversity. When trials come, it is time to turn our souls to God, who is the author of life and the only source of comfort. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27.)



Heart Up, Arms Out

You’re in the pool, you’re floating in the most vulnerable position possible—heart up, arms out.  Remember at the beginning of this post I talked about how it’s often said among self-help gurus and psychologists that we have to take care of our own needs.  Imagine trying to wrap your arms around yourself while you’re floating.  It wouldn’t work.  You would sink.  Therefore, you must extend your arms.
What does this mean in your everyday life?  Be vulnerable.  Be open, honest, heart and arms ready to give and receive.  Curling yourself in a ball, throwing up a myriad of boundaries and walls will not protect you from drowning in the sea of life.  You must be able to love others, serve others, and allow them to do the same for you.

Elder Robert D. Hales has said about trials: “When Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, he cried to the Lord for comfort, and the Lord gave it to him. He said that 'if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.' (D&C 122:7.)  Such trials give us the development of spirituality that we probably never would get if we didn’t have the experience where the very jaws of hell gape open their mouth wide after us. Not only must we survive, but we must develop the ability to have a concern for others while we are suffering. It is a key element in our spiritual growth. As we lose our lives in the service of our fellowmen, we find ourselves.”
So remember: heart up, arms out.

Use Your Core Strength

There is a strength in the center of your body that allows you to adjust the extremities as necessary to compensate for changes in the environment around you as you float on the water.  You can lift your core muscles or use them to gently kick your legs, allowing your body to stay afloat and adapt to change.  In order to do this, you must strengthen your core muscles.
What are your core beliefs that strengthen your testimony?  How can you develop a more complete testimony that will allow you to adapt to whatever life may throw your way?
May I suggest a place to start be with the Articles of Faith?  These are the over-arching, general beliefs of the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Added to these could be a testimony of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and the temple. 
When life throws things at us unexpectedly, or the waves splash in our faces and remind us that the waters of our lives will not always be smooth, the tools we have to combat those things are at the core of our beliefs.  Faith in the Eternal Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.  Strength from baptismal and temple covenants, the teachings and revelations of the Lord through scriptures and a living prophet. 

We have not been left floating alone.  The Lord will lift us.  If we stay focused on Him, He will not allow us to sink.  The only serenity to be found is in His loving arms.

The Lord bids us as He bid Peter to come onto the water with Him in the midst of the storm (not after the storm is over).  Peter had faith and was able to stay above the water until he began to fear.  Only then did he sink.  Even still, he called to the Lord, who reached out His hand to save Him.  In the words of Isaiah, “Fear … not; … I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; … I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)


  1. Loving everything about this! Great parallels.

  2. Loving this! Keep writing. I love the parallels drawn here.


What do you think?