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Ed Jordan: Life is But a Swim

Posted: 6/1/18 at 12:00pm. Column by Ed Jordan.

For some people, life is but a dream. For others, life is but a race. For Pacific salmon, life is but a swim, as they swim upstream against strong current to spawn, or die trying. Most salmon are born in fresh water but live much of their lives in salt water, until they return to fresh water streams to spawn. They swim upstream to get to the shallow, calm, gravel beds in which they lay their eggs. This journey becomes a fight for their lives.

I have a friend who is an avid swimmer. He swims for exercise but also as training to compete in an annual river swim. I am impressed with such discipline and commitment. While we were talking together yesterday, he brought up the concept of the endless pool as a metaphor for me to explore in a column someday. So today, let’s explore that idea.

An endless pool is a term used to describe a swim-in-place training pool. It can be part of a regular swimming pool, or it may be a small pool made specifically for swimming in place. There are various brands and differences, but generally there is a machine inside the wall of a swimming pool which uses propellers, paddlewheels, or jets to produce a current of water which is strong enough that you can swim against the current and not hit the source wall.

You can literally swim in place. The force of the current offers enough resistance to let you swim as hard and fast as you like, without ever reaching the wall. In short, you swim, swim, swim, but you never make any forward progress.

Life is often like an endless pool; we work hard, yet we make little or no forward progress.

For swimmers, this is a great invention. You can swim miles of laps in a very little pool. You can adjust the current to swim slowly or to swim as fast as you can, so you can tone your muscles or develop stronger ones. The machine simulates the current—mimicking your movement as though you are moving through water—and helps keeps you off the bottom. If you stop swimming, the current will simply push you backwards towards the wall behind you.

In a sense, the endless pool machine creates the rigors of rushing water that a salmon fights its way through as it navigates in order to spawn. For humans, it very much depicts most of our lives as we navigate through life. While we love the image of lounging on an air mattress, lazily floating in a swimming pool, that image is a vacation image—an image of an anomaly, an unusual time in our lives when life is just relaxation and ease. This is something we get to do once in a great while, but it’s not the day-to-day description of our working lives.

Life in the real world is more vividly seen in the salmon pushing itself out of the water with tails thrashing—fighting against the stream, the wind, and gravity to make a few inches of progress upstream. Life is a similar struggle; day to day, we frequently expend great amounts of energy busily swimming in place, lest we lose all we have gained in the swim thus far. Life is often like an endless pool; we work hard, yet we make little or no forward progress.

Real life is not for sissies. We need a goal to work toward, we need to focus on the goal and use every skill and bit of knowledge we have to overcome the forces trying to knock us down. Life begins with a dream, but the dream will not become a reality without an enduring, engaging, endless swim. While an endless pool can help us train for the race, in real life we need to be participating in the race of life—moving toward an eternity spent in the loving arms of God rather than swimming in place indefinitely—captivated by a shallow imitation, a minuscule man-made pool and current.

Paul described our life’s race in Philippians 3:13–14 (NLT): “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Christians swim upstream, towards the source of living water. The goal is to make progress, swim hard, and reach the quiet, gurgling springs of an eternity which are filled with God, life, and beauty. Are we moving forward and upward? Or are we swimming in place and going nowhere?

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.