It was only 10:30 a.m., but the summer sun had already made walking barefoot across the cement pool deck a bit of a tip-toed hustle. A row of proud parents, grateful for a gentle breeze as they sat huddled under their umbrellas, chattered amiably with each other. Lathered in layers of sunscreen, their little ones sat dutifully in brightly colored bathing suits along the edge of the pool with their toes dangling in the water. Seven four-year-olds enrolled in “Bubble Buddies,” (the first level of swimming lessons), were eagerly ready to begin their sixth class.
After all the giggles and squeals of sliding into the cool water subsided, I instructed them to begin our warm-ups – 10 “bobs.” While hanging on to the side of the pool, the children began bouncing up and down in the water as they got all wet and accustomed to the temperature. This in and of itself was a major triumph. For the first few days, many of these tiny ones had been afraid to get even their faces wet. Finally, it was time to introduce the lesson for the day – the most difficult skill to be learned in Bubble Buddies: floating on their backs.
Many people learning to swim find that floating supine on the water can be much harder than swimming the crawl or even learning to dive. Floating requires correct body position. The head must be tilted back and the chin must be up. This position of the head naturally elevates the chest and brings the rest of the body to the surface. Secondly, floating requires a real relinquishing of control. People have to be willing to let their feet leave the security of the pool floor without any real assurance that they won’t get water up their nose. Most importantly, though, floating requires trust. Tense people sink. People must learn to trust the water to support their body and they must learn to trust the instructor to whom they have handed over their safety.
Seven little pairs of eyes look trustingly at me and I know that soon this trust will be sorely tested. “Today we are going to learn a wonderful new skill – to float on our backs.”
“Oohs” and “Aahs” come from innocent, wet faces.
“This is very important because it will help you learn to swim across the pool and will help you if you ever get in danger in the water. Watch me, and I’ll show you how to do it.”
Making it look very easy, I explain and demonstrate step by step. “First, you put your head back and look up at the sky. Next, you lie down in the water and put your arms out. Finally, you let your feet leave the bottom of the pool and you relax on top of the water.”
After standing back up, I ask “Would anyone like to try first?” Several hands shoot up. I chose Kaylee, a little girl who seems as comfortable in the water as a fish. She steps forward confidently into the center of the kiddy pool. The parents in the shade lean forward, their faces showing their concern.
“Now Kaylee, I am going to help support your head as you learn to float. I am not going to let your face even get wet. I am going to put one of my hands under the back of your neck like this. My other hand I will put on your forehead. This will help you keep your head in the right position, so that you can float. I will be right at the top of your head bending over you, so you and I can watch each other carefully.” Looking Kaylee straight in the eyes, I ask, “Can you trust me?”
With a smile on her face and a gleam in her eyes, Kaylee nods.
Nearly a century prior to this swimming lesson, another young woman was eagerly learning the art of surrender to the Divine Instructor. Jesus revealed to St. Maria Faustina, an obscure Religious Sister in Poland, His deep love and mercy for all humanity and appointed her as His ‘Messenger of Mercy’. His message involved a request for our childlike confidence in His love and a renewed call for mercy toward our neighbor. Because of our fallen nature, it is easy to emphasize one of these aspects over the other. In my experience, it is far less demanding to heed the call to serve and pray for one’s neighbors than it is to take seriously Jesus’ call to deep trust in one’s own relationship with Him. Trust in mercy must precede our efforts to serve others because we cannot give what we do not have.
Trusting, like learning to float, requires a genuine willingness to surrender. Since we are such fearful creatures, surrender is very often difficult for us. This is especially the case when we are asked to place our confidence in something or someone who is mysterious and who we cannot see or control. Nevertheless, Jesus repeats over and over His desire that we increase our trust in Him. Just like a child in his father’s arms, trust is the greatest means that we have of showing our love.
We have been told since we were children that God loves us, and that He is good. Yet, somehow, this ‘head knowledge’ rarely makes a deep and lasting change in our hearts. So often in our brokenness, we return doubt for love and try to hedge our bets by clinging to mistrust even in the face of God’s overwhelming goodness. This disbelief, though, has repercussions not only in our own souls but also the Heart of God, as well. As Jesus told St. Faustina, “My heart is sorrowful, because…souls do not understand the greatness of My mercy. Their relationship [with Me] is, in certain ways, imbued with mistrust. Oh, how much that wounds My heart! Remember My Passion, and if you do not believe My words, at least believe My wounds.” (Diary 379)
Why don’t we trust God fully? Original sin has left some deep scars on each of our souls. Even after Baptism, these wounds continue to breed doubt about God’s goodness and make it difficult for us to not defend ourselves in the face of vulnerability. Coupled with the effects of original sin, our unique personalities and temperaments increase or decrease our ability to trust. Add to that our personal history with all the ways we have inflicted harm on ourselves or felt the effects of others’ harmful choices, and in the end, many of us find that we have layers and layers which we have to work through in order to find the freedom we need to unconditionally surrender to God’s loving guidance. Yet, the good news is that God is not surprised or put off by our brokenness and our struggle to trust. In fact, it is into this very struggle to trust that He desires to come.
God is love and, therefore, He can act only out of love. As St. Faustina explains, the key to growth in trust is deep knowledge of God’s goodness. She writes, “Some souls do not have the courage to entrust themselves completely to God. And this is so because few souls know the unfathomable mercy of God and His great goodness.” (Diary 731) St. Faustina is not speaking of ‘head knowledge’; this is heart-to-heart knowledge. The more we come to intimately know and love our Lord, the more we recognize His gentle voice speaking in our hearts; the more He reveals to us His goodness and mercy; the more we allow our gaze meet His, the deeper our courage to surrender to Him will be.
Jesus reminded St. Faustina repeatedly that there is a direct correlation between our ability to trust and our capacity to receive His grace. Mistrust makes our relationship with Him very strained and tense. Tense souls sink. When we give God the freedom to act in our lives, we experience deep peace. Jesus tells St. Faustina that the battle for sanctity is won when we choose to trust in His help. He pleads, “How very much I desire the salvation of souls! I want to pour out my divine life into human souls and sanctify them, if only they were willing to accept My grace. The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in my mercy.” (Diary 1784) The work of our sanctity is His to accomplish. We are to put forth our greatest efforts to grow in holiness by striving to grow in trust and love. Through the joys, sorrows, sufferings, and triumphs that He providentially ordains for our growth and healing, He can do His work in us without impediment.
Trust is the greatest expression of love. There can be no substitute – for love without trust is a farce. We are called to trust in God’s mercy even when our faith is tested by the experience of our weakness and sinfulness or by the trials and circumstances of life. As St. Faustina writes, “The soul gives the greatest glory to its Creator when it turns with trust to The Divine Mercy.” (Diary 930) From this reception of Mercy in our own lives, our mission to share this gift with others is born. Jesus promises, “When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls.” (Diary 1074) Thus, through prayers, words, and deeds of mercy, the soul can’t help but naturally radiate the great gift which has been poured into it.
Back in the kiddy pool, little Kaylee faces her fear to trust.
Together we count, “One, two, three.”
I gently tilt her head back and whisper soothingly in her ear. “Kaylee, you’re alright. Can you put your arms out?”
Kaylee stifles a nervous gasp as she feels the water edging up the sides of her face. Her eyes dart left and right looking for help. Frightened at her lack of control, she calls out, “Mommy!” and instinctively struggles to sit up in the water.
“Kaylee, look at me.” Taking courage from the gentle support of my hands, she puts her head back again. Our eyes lock. I see in her eyes real fear and an ardent plea for help. Simultaneously, she gazes deeply into my eyes searching for a reason to trust. I return her imploring gaze with a loving smile. I know she can do it.
Kaylee reads the confidence in my face and drinks in the surety of her instructor. She takes a deep breath. The tension melts, and her body relaxes. Kaylee’s arms begin to float up and her toes gently break the surface of the water. I remove my hand from her forehead while still supporting the back of her neck. A smile, though still hesitant, breaks as she realizes that she is doing it all on her own. Victory! After a few moments, I help her stand up in the water, and Kaylee begins jumping up and down waving and shouting, “Mommy, Mommy, I did it. I learned to float. Now I can swim.”
May we search out His gaze. May we learn to surrender in His arms. May we learn to trust our Father who desires nothing more than our confidence in His love.
With unbounded trust comes unspeakable joy and unlimited possibilities.