“You don’t look like swimmers to me. You look like a bunch of Ooompa Loompas,” the coach said, glaring at the nervous group of dripping teens. Just a minute before he had called us all out of the water, disappointed by our form or times or something. I looked down at my own post-puberty hips and full thighs, feeling completely exposed by my racing swimsuit. Compared to the tiny, fit swimmers around me I felt like the only Oompa Loompa. After another 20 minutes in the water, I mumbled an excuse and escaped to the bathroom where I waited until my parents pulled up outside the aquatic complex, confidence broken.
One of the girls on the team had Olympic-qualifying times. At one swim meet, I swam the wrong stroke during a medley event – twice. Swimming was not a natural gift of mine, nor did I feel supported to put in the effort to try.
However, one day at the pool, Coach Emmet called me and a few other c-team swimmers over after practice. “I’m starting a conditioning program,” he said, “I want you to join me to run before practice twice a week.”
I had pretty much given up on my ability to advance in swimming, but still, I convinced my parents to bring me to practice early so I could join the group of runners. After a few weeks, I could complete the entire mile without stopping, and soon after that, I was finding time to run on other days of the week as well, increasing both my mileage and my speed. Eventually, I left the swim team, but I continued to run. In my adult life, I have completed three marathons, and for my 30th birthday last year, I ran a 30K (18.6 miles). Running is a source of stress relief, exercise, and friendship.
Coach Emmet knew I was not cut out to be a great swimmer, but instead of calling me out for being a disappointment as many other coaches had done, he simply invited me to a higher view of self and inspired me to do better. His quiet invitation changed my mental spiral of discouragement into a positive outlet.
Today, what is your spiral? Disappointment in self or others? Lack of ability or resources? Continued failure or repeated sin that you cannot seem to break free from? Jesus came to gently lift us out of our spirals with a gentle invitation:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30