As we transition to a time in the liturgical year where we focus on the life of the church, I cannot help but think about beginnings. It is spring, we have new life all around, and all of this brings us to a place of joy! Unfortunately, because we tend to look nostalgically at our beginnings, we often overlook the struggles, frustrations, and adjustments that each new beginning requires. This means that we often miss the some of the most important parts of starting things, and forget that there is a process we need to go through in order to have healthy and whole new beginnings.
To understand new beginnings, we need to understand fear. Often when we come to the point of trying something new, we let our fear block us from really going through with that new thing. This is understandable--we take a lot of comfort in the safety of what is known, and to try something new will launch us into the unknown!
It reminds me of many years ago when I was teaching swimming to kids. I had patience, so I worked with the group that was just learning how to swim. It was a frustrating but cool experience. The truth about teaching kids to swim is that the last thing we taught was how to swim!
The very first step in teaching someone to swim is to help them let go of their fear. Even though humans are predisposed to learning how to swim, most children also have an innate fear of water. This fear is a good thing, because it helps keep the child safe, but it also restricts their experience of the joy of swimming and development of basic swimming skills.
Giving the child time and patience, I would bring them to the edge of the lake and slowly help them in. At first I would hold their hands as they crept in, then their shoulders. For some, I would only need to hold them a few minutes, but others needed reassurance longer.
Floating was the first and most important lesson, because it taught them to let go of their fear and begin to listen to their bodies. The truth is that everyone can float. Some will float at the top of the water, and others only a couple inches below but contrary to many beliefs, people do not sink to the bottom without some kind of help or movement. Learning to float is all about reducing your fear and anxiety. If your body is either tense or flailing, you’re going to sink. To float, you need to relax and listen to your body, slowly moving an arm or leg as needed.
Once the child mastered floating, getting them swimming was a breeze. Getting them to do strokes correctly is another story, and another letter altogether!
As you can see with swimming, there is a process that has to happen at the beginning. With any new beginning, there has to be a time of letting go¾letting go of fear, and letting go of what you know. There has to be trust in others. The children I worked with had to trust that I would not let them get hurt. There also had to be trust in themselves. The children had to trust that when I let go, they could rely on themselves.
Unfortunately, some of the other instructors did not take that approach. We actually had one that threw a child into the lake! It took months to get that kid to swim! When starting something new, many of us want it to be completely developed right away. If there is one thing that we know about the early church, it is that it was far from perfect. But what made it take off and become so powerful for people was that the disciples were able to let go of their fear and trust in God to guide them, and themselves to follow through.
When we forget our beginnings, we create a number of problems. We forget to give people the grace they need to get over their fears. We forget that we cannot do it alone and need to trust God. But when we remember that, even when we are no longer just starting out, we open ourselves to new beginnings all the time.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen