Thinking About...Water Wings

Our kids love swimming pools. They splash contentedly for hours in heavily-chlorinated water. I, too, am fond of swimming, but my real love is sitting in the sun and reading. Therefore, I place great value on my kids ability to floating without my immediate physical presence—whether through their own prowess or through the use of artificial floatation. Our floatation device of choice is water wings* (aka those orange arm floatie things). I’ve been thinking about water wings. My wife and I have come to realize that while undoubtedly helpful to a point, water wings eventually become a ‘prop’ that prevents our children from swimming on their own. Parents inevitably reach the point when they must pull the water wings from a child’s arms (with some difficulty, I should add) so that she may swim (or sink).

Figurative Water Wings

Many people wear figurative water wings. For instance, we wear relational water wings. We paddle ourselves around our relationships supported and emboldened by the confidence our water wings provide. At first, it is good that we tread carefully with other people. After all, it’s our hearts at stake. But if we never shed the water wings, we’ll never mount the courage to plunge into the deep end of a relationship. And we’ll never learn how to swim on our own in relational deep water. When conflict and crisis come (those first hints of drowning), we panic because we’ve never learned to swim.

Spiritual Water Wings

We also wear spiritual water wings. These are habits that help us initially, but end up keeping us from faith. Certain spiritual practices (often learned from others) support us and offer confidence as we first exercise faith. But if we never learn to leave these practices and put our faith solely in Jesus (the object of our faith and the source of our confidence), we will never ‘swim’.**

Our spiritual water wings are exposed when we say: ‘I’ve never done that before.’ Or when we trust our structures and strategies more than we trust in God. The time may be coming (perhaps its already come) when you should pull off the spiritual water wings that have served you and plunge into the full life of faith in Jesus: plunge into service to others far outside your comfort zone; plunge into telling another person about God’s love for you even when you don’t know the words to say; plunge into a messy relationship where you will breathe grace, even though you are gasping for it yourself.

*Inflatable armbands **Peter’s faith (and subsequent lack of faith) in Matthew 14:22-33 offers a visible illustration of this idea.