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Walking on Water vs. Learning to Swim

Photo by William Ferguson on Unsplash

My brother and I enjoyed watching westerns with Dad growing up. The man knows all of them. How well, you ask? He gave the tour of Monument Valley… to the tour guide. And then promptly left. This was well before the ‘mike-drop’ became a thing. Cole Sr. – always ahead of his time.

But, we also got to introduce Dad to a few of our favorites. One of the favorites was Tombstone. As far westerns go, it’s entertaining but it’ll never win any awards. But, there are several memorable lines, mostly coming from Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday: “I’m your huckleberry.” “Why, Ike, whatever do you mean?”, and “I know, let’s have a spelling bee” are some of my favorites.

The one that stands out to me is this one:

“Down by the creek, walking on water.” So simple. So good. But is it apt?

The Walk

It’s a theme that comes up often when people are seen to be all-powerful or full of miracles. It’s a striking image. The first time anyone heard of this was in the Book of Matthew. If you’ve not read it, here’s a recap:

After feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus’s disciples say they should leave by boat. Instead of going with them, Jesus sends them ahead while he disperses the crowd. (Funny how those twelve always seem to be looking out for themselves rather than Jesus. Anyway….)

So, the disciples leave and as they are heading to the other side, a great storm comes up and they are scared to death. The boat is thrashing around, they are taking on water, and everyone is upset.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, they see Jesus walking towards them. On the water. (And, smiling, I like to think.)

This is the first, and last as I know it, time any human walked on the surface of the water.

The Current Current

Around the dinner table with some of closest friends in the world the other night, sports came up often. Between the two families we have five boys from 11th grade down to 4th and all are good young guys who stay pretty active.

In trading stories over dessert, the term ‘they think he walks on water’ came up a couple of times. It was always in talking about how we perceive other parents’ feelings about their high achieving, high-level sports playing son.

I’ve seen it as well in my roles as a summer camp director, youth sports coach, and parent.

  • “My son is the best one on the court.”

  • “My son is the perfect camp counselor.”

  • “He’s already learned that.”

  • “He should be starting.”

  • “He deserved a better grade than that.”

This idea that our sons can do no wrong seems to becoming more and more prevalent. We may be falling into the trap of helping to build their self-esteem by constantly supporting, no matter what they do. Rather than seeing our sons as young men we need to lead, we steer them clear of any problems and try to shout down anyone who thinks they’ve made a mistake.

I think most of this reaction comes from fear on the parent’s standpoint. I say that because I feel it myself. Will they be ‘good enough’, ‘smart enough’, or ‘happy?’

Thinking of our boys in these terms limits their growth and our own sanity. We worry, we fret, we try to protect as helicopters to snowplows and everything in between. It does little good and, if we aren't careful, a lot of harm. It creates fragile young men who break like glass when they fail.

Teach Swimming

Instead of glass, they need to be little like rubbOur young men have to fail and learn to pick themselves up. They need to be strong enough to ask ‘what did I do wrong?’, listen to the answer, and try it differently the next time. And, we have to support that learning.

Our sons do not walk on water and it would be awful of us to lead them to feel they can. (Heck, even Peter needed a life-jacket and he was literally walking next to Him.) Teach them, instead, to swim – even if it’s against the current.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

PS – a funny story:

As a golfer interested in all things Bobby Jones and Augusta National, I wanted to relay a funny story about Clifford Roberts.

Mr. Roberts was the original, longtime, and ‘all-powerful’ chairman of August National. One day late in his time there, someone thought it a good idea to have take Mr. Roberts’s picture while walking across the pond to 16 green. The photographers had sunk a dark platform just under the surface to set up the shot.

It was a good idea and a great photo. The message was clear – Mr. Roberts could do anything at Augusta National.

Sadly, they failed to let Mr. Roberts’s caddy in on the joke. Seeing Mr. Roberts walking on water, he promptly dropped the bag and ran to the clubhouse hollering about it.

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