A few months ago David, my 19-year old son, asked me to run a triathlon with him, which is a race in which you swim, bike, and run in that order. I immediately said yes because I wanted to share this experience with him and because I like exercise. I was in good shape from the jogging I do and I’ve run five marathons so I thought I was up for the challenge.
I was Afraid of the Ocean Swim
But after I had committed myself I thought about having to swim – that part of the race scared me! I was going to have to swim a ½ mile in the ocean and I had never swam that far in my life, let alone in the ocean. And because of arthritis in my shoulders I couldn’t swim freestyle and had to use breaststroke. I had three weeks to practice my swimming.
Time went fast and before I knew it there I was on race day with hundreds of people crammed like sardines on the beach and looking into an ocean of freezing cold water. I was shivering and I wasn’t even in the water yet! Six foot high waves, one after the other, were roaring towards me and I was going to have to swim through those crashing walls of salt water and go all the way out to a buoy that I could barely see and then come back.
Soon all the people around me would be thrashing, kicking, and splashing into me, trying to get in front of me. But I didn’t care about being first – I just wanted to finish the race alive! Really. I had been told that recently a shark had eaten a person on that very beach! I tried to dismiss this thought as highly unlikely.
But I worried, How am I going to breathe with all the waves and splashes of water coming into my face? What if I start choking on salt water?
I had to Take Courage from the Word of God
The starter’s gun was about to fire. It was time for a final gut check: was I willing to face my fear? I thought of the Apostle Paul’s words:
One thing I do… I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus…
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty… I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 3:13-14, 4:13).
“I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength… I can overcome my fear through Christ who gives me strength… I can swim in this ocean through Christ who gives me strength…” I combated my fears by repeating these words of life to myself over and over.
I knew that Jesus was there beside me saying, “Take courage.” He was there to swim with me and to help me. I was going to swim the roaring ocean with Jesus! I was not going to shrink back!
The gun sounded and I dove into the ocean to start swimming for my medal!
Grace for a Dog-Paddler!
But as I swam it was obvious that I was struggling. I took in a lot of salt water! I felt and looked like I was dog paddling as all these expert swimmers passed me up! I had always done fairly well in my running races so this was a new and humbling experience for me.
In fact, along the swim route there were lifeguards sitting atop surfboards and two of them asked me, “Are you okay? Do you need help?” My swimming was so pitiful that they were afraid I was going to drown!
But I wasn’t afraid anymore. The Lord said, “Take courage” and that’s what I did. As I swam I kept praying, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” The lifeguards didn’t see that I was swimming with Jesus! (Nonetheless, I’m glad they were watching me closely!)
Assisted by the grace of God (his power acting with me!), including the “just enough” training that I did in preparation, I finished my first triathlon! How did I do? For the swimming portion I came in 70th place out of 72 male swimmers my age! I did a lot better on the bike and the run, but beating other people was not the point – it was about diving in to face my fear with Jesus.
How do you Need to Take Courage?
I’ve had to take courage from Christ with me to overcome many other fears in my life. I bet you have too.
For instance, twenty years ago I was struggling with panic about being a keynote speaker for audiences numbering in the thousands. And for many years I had anxieties and worries about many, many things that I was trying to control and this sucked the life out of me and took away my smile. I thank God for how he has helped me to face my fears and to grow in his grace and peace!
How about you? What fear do you need to face? You’d be wise to get help training with Jesus in order to overcome your fear and anxiety. If you avoid what you fear then your fear increases and your world shrinks.
Take courage from Jesus. Hold his hand and then dive in to face your fear!