When I was in my grade 12 year I was given an amazing opportunity. I had played water polo for three years at my high school, yes there are high school water polo teams in the states, and yes it is a real and difficult sport.
In the spring, after our water polo season was over, our coach Andy called and asked if I was interested in playing a non-league game with his team from Portland State University. I was excited that Andy had enough confidence in my ability to ask me to play with his university team.
I gladly accepted and showed up at the rec-centre where the game was to be played on the allotted day and time. Right away I realized something was different. Our high School pool was 25 yards long by about 12 and half yards wide. The maximum depth was 10 feet and the shallow end was 3.5 feet. This meant that during the 40 minutes of exhausting play sprinting back and forth we could hold on to the sides or stand on the bottom of the shallow end when a play was stopped for a foul. This gave the tired players and their tired legs a break.
The University tank was a regulation water polo tank. It was 30 yards long by 20 yards wide and was delineated by ropes as it was set up in the deep section of the Olympic size swimming pool. That meant there were no sides to hold on to and that due to the platform diving tower, the whole tank was 20 feet deep.
This all seemed good until mid way through the second half; my legs began to cramp due to the fact that I was unable to rest them during the dead ball moments of the game. Now I was, if I may say so, an excellent swimmer and always thought I could swim through a leg cramp. Let me assure you that no matter how good a swimmer you may be it is nearly impossible to swim with both legs cramping.
I was unable to swim quickly to the side or stand in the shallow section to help rest my legs. I began to sink like a lead balloon. I struggled to the top flailing and screaming in pain. I just got high enough to gasp for air and started to sink again. I made my way back up one more time, gasped for air one more time and then on the third time went down believing that I was about to meet my maker.
Just as I had resigned myself to the fact that my life might be done, I felt someone grab me by the wrist and quickly pull me to the surface. It was Andy. He looked at me with this goofy grin through his walrus-like mustache and said “how you doin buddy?” He quickly swam me over to the rope and to the side of the pool in true lifeguard style and told me to take a rest. That day I decided my water polo career was over.
Now are you ready for it? Here comes the cheesy Christian segue. Our spiritual journey is sometimes like this. As a church it is our desire to see people grow in their love for God and their love for one another and their neighbour. The love for God is our vertical relationship, or a relationship that is defined by depth. The connections with one another and our neighbours are our horizontal relationships defined by the expansion out from our comfort zone into the lives of others.
I have noticed that in my life, and in the lives of many I walk the spiritual journey with, it is easier to desire a very narrow and shallow pool. We feel overwhelmed by trying to go deep in our relationship with God and/or we feel very uncomfortable widening our relational field to include more people. So we tend to stay in the safe shallow end of a personal relationship with God, keeping it to what is known and comfortable. Likewise, we can tend to stay close to the wall of the pool rather than expanding our world to include the people that God has placed in the natural path of our everyday lives.
As your pastor it is always a struggle to know how to lead our community to grow in both areas, to grow deeper with God while at the same time growing relationally with those around us. The challenge I have for all of us as we go into this New Year is to examine the size of our tank. Is it too shallow or too narrow or both? As Elders, staff and ministry leaders we will strive to give strong leadership in providing guidance to our community to grow deeper in a relationship with God and wider in a love for those God has called us to.