Twenty-five years and many pounds ago, I was on a competitive synchronized swimming team. As a teen, every aspect of “synchro” appealed to me: the music, the sequins, the camaraderie, and the thrill of competition. I even enjoyed holding my breath until I was dizzy.
There was only one thing I didn’t like about my sport – flexibility training. God didn’t design my body to do the splits, so when I saw the words “Flex Training” written on the day’s practice schedule, I would cringe. Sometimes, right before the appointed hour, I would make a lengthy and well-planned trip to the washroom.
Rereading the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, I have found many parallels to my life. When I faked a cramp or snuck out to the locker room to avoid the splits, I was like Sarah when she tried to sidestep God’s training program by inviting Hagar to have a child with Abraham (16:1-2). Like me, she wanted to skip the really tough stuff. My coach was training me to compete at nationals, and God was training Sarah to be the mother of nations. For both of us, doing the splits – spiritually for Sarah and physically for me – was an integral part of the preparation.
I’m now on a different team – Team Jesus. Every aspect of Christianity appeals to me: the music, the sermons, the fellowship, and the thrill of studying Scripture. I even enjoy praying in public. There’s only one thing I don’t like about being a Christian – evangelizing. It’s the spiritual equivalent of doing the splits!
Back to synchro. There were two particularly painful exercises we did to stretch our splits. In the first, a swimmer would go upside down, put her hands on the bottom of the pool, and do the splits. While she pushed her hips up to the ceiling, her teammates would push down on her legs. It was gruelling and perhaps not unlike the time Sarah spent in Pharaoh’s harem in Genesis 12:10-20. I suspect she, too, felt as if she had been turned upside down, betrayed, and suffocated, as if her faith would snap like an overstretched rubber band.
In the second exercise, we had to sit in splits on the pool deck for long periods of time. It was terrible. The heel of my front leg would go numb. The anklebones of my back leg would grind against the unforgiving concrete and I would simply want to flop over and give up.
Back to Sarah. What did she do when she overheard God tell Abraham she would have a baby? She laughed (Genesis 18:12). And what did she do when she gave birth to Isaac? She laughed even harder (Genesis 21:6-7).
Back to me, legs akimbo, on the pool deck. Often, at the height of my suffering, when my legs were threatening to leap out of their sockets, one of my teammates would say something like, “Hey, I wonder what all the normal kids are doing?” Or, even more humourous to our teenage sensibilities, someone would pass gas rather noisily and unapologetically.
Whatever the joke, or sound effect, we would break out in hysterical giggles. The laughter had a miraculous ability to release my hips and allow me to sink a little deeper into the splits. What a relief!
Recently, I was sitting at my kitchen table helping a non-believing student do a literary analysis of Mark’s Gospel for his grade 12 English class. I had never spoken to the student about my faith other than to unobtrusively mention that I’m a Christian. But that day, as I was reading aloud from Mark 11:23 where Jesus talks about faith moving mountains, the student interrupted me and asked if it was true. Can faith move mountains?
Like Sarah, I had to laugh. The idea of commanding a mountain to jump into the sea is absurd and totally laughable! It was the splits all over again. My faith muscle didn’t stretch that far. I thought if I tried to explain such a preposterous idea to a non-believer he would think I was crazy, as crazy as someone who tells a 90-year-old woman she’s going to have a baby!
But the laughter was miraculous. It relaxed the tight grip reason and rationality had on my mind and allowed me to stretch deeper into my faith. The laughter helped me believe. Consequently, I was able to open up and share my salvation story with joy and wholehearted confidence.