I still remember my first experience with the deep end of our community pool like it was yesterday.
Okay, maybe the day before yesterday. I’m old.
For years, as a small child, I swam safely in the shallow end, playing games like catch and alligator. For the uninitiated, alligator meant that my dad would crawl along the bottom of the pool while I stood on his back. I never understood why he wanted to play this particular game for only about sixty seconds at a time.
Regardless of the fact that my imagination outsized my father’s lung capacity, the shallow end was a comfortable, fun place.
Only three feet deep, the shallow end represented a very manageable risk. I was in control of my circumstances. I could stand up whenever I wanted. I felt safe, except for the times when my sister and I tried to drown each other.
One day, though, I realized that it was time that I grew up. For years, I’d gazed in wonderment past the rope-and-buoy barrier demarcating the line between shallow and deep, and watched as those braver than I swam fearlessly through the dark waters of this mysterious expanse. I’d taken some swimming lessons, and knew that my day had come.
I was determined to not only swim in the deep end, but also dive to the bottom.
This pool was no mere Motel 6-esque concrete tarn. It was Olympic-sized, with a 12-foot-deep area under the diving board.
What was down there? Sharks? Bodies? The Kraken? Or, more realistically, some loose change that I could add to my piggy bank? I had to find out.
I lifted the rope-buoy thing. (If there’s a technical term for this apparatus, I knoweth it not.) Showing off my proprietary, Phelps-meets-Fido mix of the crawl stroke and the doggy paddle, I headed for the deepest part of the pool.
Even though I knew how to swim, and even though there was a lifeguard on duty, fear started creeping in to the corners of my seven-year-old brain. I tried to put my feet down to touch the bottom, and felt nothing. I couldn’t stand. Treading water, I suddenly felt very out of control. Vulnerable. Scared.
Pushing past my fears, I reached the deepest spot in the pool. The water below me was a dark shade that I’d never seen before.
Taking a huge breath, I filled my little lungs to their fullest capacity.
Down, down, down. A strange pressure, one I’d never felt before, built in my ears and behind my eyes. The sounds of children playing and adults yelling faded into a smooth, aqueous hum. The lights above dimmed.
I could see the bottom of the pool approaching. Filled with a newfound freedom, I swam with renewed energy, placing my hand firmly on the smooth blue tiles covering the bottom of the pool. I felt as though I’d been let in on a secret, had tapped into a new reality.
I also was running out of air.
Quickly, I headed for the surface, popping out into a world of cacophony, clamor and chaos, gasping for breath.
I had done it. I had gone deep.
Or had I?
The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the answer is no. (Yeah, I know. You were waiting for the metaphor.)
So many times, I have settled for quantity over quality. Security over vulnerability. Shallow over deep.
I have cultivated superficial relationships with a million people, but only a very few know who I am, inside and out. Likewise, I have only taken the time to know a very few as I am known.
I suspect you and I are not too dissimilar. We’re born, we grow up, we spend a lot of time building walls and defenses, trying to present only the best parts of ourselves as we desperately search for human approval. All the while, by never letting others all the way into our damaged hearts, we miss out on the opportunity to forge true relationships. Relationships that bond over things like faith, pain, and heartache, not the weather or the White Sox.
We stay in the shallow end. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. And, ultimately, it will kill our souls.
“Hi, how are you?” “Good! How are you?” “Good!”
“Sure is nice out today, isn’t it?” “It is! Loving this weather.”
“I can’t believe what Jessica did at work today.” “Yeah, me neither. I hope she’s fired by tomorrow.”
Words matter. We only get so many of them before we run out of breath for good.
How many of the precious few moments of life we’re granted on this earth do we spend in meaningless, superficial conversation? How many people who are placed in our path do we miss out on the opportunity to truly know? To truly love? To truly bless? You and I are snowflakes. Fingerprints of the divine. Each one of us has a unique story to tell, a story that so often gets locked away behind idle chatter about things that don’t matter.
What are we afraid of? That if others truly know us, they won’t like us? That if we truly know others, we won’t like them? Or, perhaps deep, meaningful conversation simply takes too much time and energy in this Snapchat world?
The single most beautiful facet of the relational human experience is being fully known, and yet fully loved.
True, unconditional love like this can never take place in any relationship unless we enter the deep end. Unless we are able to bulldoze our carefully constructed walls. Unless we are able to risk being hurt to gain a lifetime of fulfillment and meaning.
Almost everyone on this planet craves meaningful conversation and authentic relationship. Knowing this, why do we settle for anything less?
So, take a dive. But dive wisely.
Diving into the deep end may be terrifying. Breathtaking. But, it can also be liberating. Exhilarating.
Diving into the shallow end will probably leave you paralyzed.
Take a dive. Go deep. Live honestly. Openly. Resolve to steer today’s conversations toward things that matter, not the latest episode of Twin Peaks. Resolve to be vulnerable. Genuine. Authentic. In return, your cup will overflow.
Don’t keep your heart locked away. It’s the most beautiful thing about you.