In Over My Head
A line in “The Upper Room Disciplines” hooked my attention as the Church celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. (Mark 1:1-11) The writer said:
“Just because we don’t understand doesn’t get us off the hook for promising more than we realize…We’re in over our head in these things. We always have been.”
The words brought back childhood fears about being in water that was over my head. I remembered being afraid if I couldn’t touch bottom, clutching a floating raft or grasping the side of the pool. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been skinny, but I could never quite pull off the “dead man float” that seemed to easy for the other kids.
In spite of receiving credit for a swimming class in college, I’ve never been a good swimmer. I enjoyed water skiing because I always wore a life jacket. Now, while I’m putting in my time on the elliptical machines at the YMCA, I watch serious swimmers putting in their laps in the pool and know there’s no way I could do that. I’m not as afraid as I was as a child, but I’m still cautious about getting in over my head.
Beyond What We Could Deal With
The online dictionary defines the idiom: “Lit. in water that is deeper than one is tall. Fig. too deeply involved with someone or something, beyond what one can deal with.”
My guess is that most of us have an inherent fear of getting in “over our heads.” We type-A, over-achieving, success-oriented control freaks don’t like being in situations where we aren’t in control; where we aren’t sure of ourselves; where we don’t know what is out ahead. We aren’t quick to jump into situations that are “beyond what we can deal with.” We prefer being in situations where we can “touch bottom” and know that we can get out of the situation if we want or need to.
But I also know that the shallow end of the pool is a very small place to live. In fact, it can be downright boring. There’s something exciting about diving into deeper water, taking risks we might not have taken, and reaching out for something we might have avoided.
Baptism in Deep Water
There’s a drawing going around on Facebook of John the Baptist preparing to dunk Jesus into the river. The caption says, “If you didn’t want to get so wet, you should have gone to John the Methodist.” We Methodists believe that baptism is not about the amount of water we use but the amount of grace we receive, but it has a good point.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that when The Rev. Ralph Richardson sprinkled water on my adolescent head at First Methodist Church in Clarion, Pennsylvania, he was throwing me into the deep end of the pool of God’s love and grace. It got me involved with Someone and something that continues to be way over my head.
Who would have guessed where this journey of discipleship would take me? Who would have predicted the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, the ways in which I’ve been drawn into things that have been beyond what I could have dealt with on my own? There have been lots of things I didn’t expect, could not control and do not understand. But life continues to be an exciting journey that is soaked with the water of God’s amazing grace.
The Bottom of the Pool
I still need to know that I can touch bottom. I need to know that there is something — better yet, Someone — I can hold onto when I feel like I’m in over my head. And I found it in the words that Jesus heard as he came up out of the water, “You are my beloved Son.” (Mark 1:11) I can stay in the water, I can risk jumping into the deep end, because I know that I can trust the love of God. Sometimes that’s all we have, but it’s enough.
So, dive in!
If autumn in New England sounds good to you, you’re invited to join us for a “Fall Foliage Cruise” along the New England and Canada coast in September. I assigned myself a subject I’ve never studied on before: “Pilgrims, Protestors and Poets: How New England Religion Helped Shape the Nation.” I expect it to be a new learning experience as well as a lot of fun. You’ll find the information at New England Cruise or let me know and I will send you a brochure.
Grace and peace,