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Be Not Afraid: A Lesson from the Deep End

Colleen Duggan - published on 06/16/16

A son battles his fears at swim team practice, and a mother learns a lesson about Satan's lies

“Your fear is not the boss of you, Christopher,” I said to my seven-year old son, attempting to channel Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights.

“You’ve got to tell that fear to get in the backseat because you are driving the car.”

Christopher slouched in front of me.

“I can’t tell my fear to get in the backseat. I’m afraid,” he said. (Clearly, my Coach Taylor wasn’t working.)

Though he’s had four years of swim lessons and ample one-on-one coaching, Christopher still believed he couldn’t swim the length of the pool during swim team trials. No amount of encouragement or time in the water assuaged his nerves.

All the coaches noticed.

“Mrs. Duggan,” the patient head coach said to me after he watched Chris in the pool, “Christopher isn’t ready to be on the team. Every time a coach tells him to do something, Chris says he can’t.”

This was not news.

For days, I’d watched as Christopher white-knuckled the wall from the shallow end to the deep. While the other kids cannonballed off the dive deck and raced each other to the finish, Christopher spent most of the hour looking for me, goggles planted on top of his head and not over his eyes, grinning and waving when he found me. Despite the fact I’d done everything I knew to do to teach him to swim, Christopher thought it an impossible task.

He was too fearful to even try.

I struck a deal with the coach.

“Would it be okay if Christopher participated in practice but not in the races? He’s nervous in new situations. I know he’s not ready to compete, but he is ready for your valuable coaching and encouragement. Would you be open to letting him practice?” I said.

The coach agreed. The first few days of practice didn’t go much better than the trials.

Christopher refused to do the freestyle stroke for more than a second or two before he frantically grabbed at the wall. It was a painful sight.

The next afternoon before practice, I pulled him aside.

“Christopher, you know how to swim. I believe you can do it and the coach does too. Everyone at the pool knows you can swim, except you. Today, I don’t want you to be afraid. Today, I want you to swim.”

He nodded and took a deep breath.

“OK,” he said. “I’ll try not to listen to my fear. It’s hard, though.”

I held Christopher’s hand all the way onto the pool deck. Before I left, I said,

“Don’t let your fear be in charge. You be in charge, not your fear, OK, Christopher?”

About halfway through practice, one of the male coaches jumped into the water and spoke to Chris. Chis, still huddled up against the wall, listened as the coach promised to walk with Christopher while he swam the length of the pool. The coach also told Chris he couldn’t stop or hold on.

At all.

Christopher nodded, took a deep breath, and started stroking. I watched as he made it a quarter of the way through the lane, and then halfway through. When his little arm started to creep over to safety, the coach yelled,

“No wall! Don’t grab that wall! You can do it, Chris!”

Chris paddled his arms as fast as he could, his head bobbing out of the water for air, gasping like a fish catching its last breath.

But he did it.

Chris swam the entire length of the Olympic-sized pool without stopping and without any help. When he finished, I clapped and shouted.

Fine, I also started crying.

Christopher had done it. Since that night, he’s fully participated during every practice, just like I knew he could.

The entire experience prompted me to reflect on how I let my own fear boss me around sometimes. Satan loves fear and whispers words like “loser,” “failure,” and “nobody” into my ear.

Sometimes I listen to those lies. But those lies and my fear are not from God.

Like Christopher, I can get to the other side.

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