I have been taking swimming lessons in the open ocean for two summers, but I have not quite shaken off my fear of the deep, blue water.
My adventure with the open seas started three years ago when I toyed with the idea of joining my local surf lifesaving club. I wanted to meet new friends, contribute to my community, and I thought the surf sports the lifesaving clubs put out seemed fun.
I had also naively thought that the transition from a pool swimmer to an open ocean swimmer was an easy one. I learned a hard lesson when I signed up for my inaugural 500 meter open ocean swim, equipped with limited knowledge of swimming in the ocean.
I was seized by panic, and had clung on to my friend for the best part of the swim. That was when I knew I was not ready to be a lifeguard, because what lifeguard is afraid of the ocean?
So when I heard there was a workshop dedicated to coaching swimmers of varying levels of open water confidence, I immediately signed up for it.
I found my first few months in the open water rather terrifying, and I would refuse to paddle too far out. If I could not feel the ground, I was not keen on going any further, so I spent a huge amount of time swimming with the beginners.
To make matters worse, I kept having flashbacks to my first 500 meter swim where I was convinced I nearly drowned (I didn’t because I was kept buoyant by my wetsuit and if I had been in real danger, I would have been fished out by a lifeguard).
Even when it was soon obvious to the coaches that I could (and would be better off) swimming with the more advanced beginners’ group, I would flatly refuse. There were two specific scenarios that I feared: swimming too far out in the open ocean that I’d be unable to swim back to shore, and drowning under the watchful eye of the coaches.As you can see, my fears were irrational, but I guess that is what fear does to us—it makes us entertain all sorts of crazy thoughts.
However, while I can now laugh at how irrational my fears are, I cannot begin to tell you how much I regret allowing fear to rob me of the potential to go further in my ocean swims. For example, if I had not spent so many months like a petulant toddler at the side of the shoreline, I am sure I would be able to enter various ocean swim races held in different places of New Zealand by now.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still no pro, and sometimes the sight of the choppy waters is enough to make me backpaddle to safety. But looking back, the root of my fear was my lack of trust in God.
Had I been more aware of God’s protection, knowing He will have His eye on me, I think I would have been less afraid of the open water.
Had I spent less time nursing my fears, and focused more on pushing myself, I would have passed my surf lifeguarding course and would be patrolling beaches this summer, keeping swimmers safe.
Fear is a great robber, but I’ve learned that instead of entertaining various morbid thoughts, I could pray for safety, for the coaches to be alert, and for favorable water conditions. And even if the water conditions are less than favorable, then I could pray for the strength to continue swimming.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I should be putting myself out there to do something outrageous if I wasn’t equipped to do so, but that I can entrust my fears to God even as I progress in my lifesaving course.
One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 103:14, where the Psalmist says, “for He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust”. I believe this verse tells me God knows just how frail I am as I work up enough courage to paddle out in the ocean.
But what brings me comfort is the knowledge that the Bible is also filled with Scriptures telling us not to be afraid. Some of the verses that I often think about whenever I feel fear gripping my heart are 2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 56:3, and Psalm 23:4. While these verses do not immediately erase my feelings of fear, meditating on them has made it easier for me to bring them to mind and strengthen me whenever fear starts attacking me.
Open ocean classes resume next Saturday after a three-week break. While I am not 100 per cent convinced I will not balk at the sight of the ocean the moment I step inside my wetsuit, I am determined to trust in God.
For instance, I will not panic the moment I lose sight of any one of the coaches, knowing full well they are positioned at different markers to keep an eye on us. Instead, I will take a deep breath, pray, and continue swimming towards the markers.
Instead of filling my head with various negative thoughts that leave me exhausted even before I start my swim, I will run 2 Timothy 1:7 in my head on repeat. “For God has not given us a spirt of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”
To further fuel my courage, I will also replay my past achievements. There was one Saturday where I managed to shovel my fear all the way back to the recesses of my mind, and completed a 1 kilometer swim in the ocean. I could hardly believe I did it—and I hope this achievement will motivate me to keep going further.
Fighting and banishing fear out of our lives is not an overnight activity. I do not know when I will be fully able to overcome my niggly fear of the open water, but I’m going to focus my efforts on my goal of joining the surf lifesaving group one day.
Fears are big, ugly, and generally rather irrational. I’m not trying to dismiss your fears—I know all too well how paralyzing they can make us feel—but I want to tell you that you can trust God with your fears. Whether you are heading out to new adventures, trying a new hobby, or faced with an uncertain future, God wants you to put these fears in His hands.