Swimming is a big part of my life. I swim for two hours a day, four days a week, on a competitive aquatics team. Just like with swimming, I've realized that it's equally important to practice the spiritual ideas I'm learning in Christian Science. What I've learned in Sunday school has helped me express spiritual qualities and glorify God during long warm-ups, challenging swim practices, and meets.
I like the idea from the Bible that God created everyone in His "image" and "likeness" (seeGen. chap. 1). Even though God made us spiritual and perfect, that doesn't mean that we don't have to work. In fact, there have been many times when my prayers have helped me see how to listen better for God's good ideas. Then, I make progress.
As I pay attention to what God is communicating to me while I'm swimming, I've been able to achieve my goals and learn more about God in the process.
Warming up my thoughts ...
Since an important part of swim practice is warming up through stretching, I like to think about this activity from a spiritual point of view. Instead of thinking mostly about getting muscles ready, I often mentally warm up, or prepare myself for the workout ahead.
For example, two ideas I've prayed with are from the book of Genesis in the Bible. One is that when God said, "Let there be light," "there was immediate light. The Bible doesn't say the light gradually grew from being cold and dim to bright. To me, that means that I don't have to work my way up to feeling energized, because I'm already prepared to reflect God. The other idea is that we're created "in God's image and likeness." So I'm naturally safe and protected from being hurt while I exercise. Of course, I still join in the stretching that my team does, but I think the spiritual preparation really helps.
One time, during warm-up, I was feeling so tired that I was getting "lapped"—or passed twice—by other swimmers in my lane. I started to feel that practice was going to be miserable. But then I remembered the two ideas I use to warm up my thoughts. After I prayed with these ideas, the rest of the warm-up and practice went smoothly.
Practicing listening ...
For me, swim practice is a good time to turn to God and ask for the intelligence to remember what I need to change with a certain stroke that may need improving. Sometimes it's challenging not to kick or pull like crazy in the water when I'm not making the time intervals, or goals, that the coach sets up for the team. When this happens, I pray to know that God is my source of intelligence and strength, and that I express Him. Because of this, my ability to go fast is already there. I just need to ask for help and listen for God's messages. When I'm open to receiving these messages, I can start tweaking my technique.
Another challenge during practices is simply breathing. After an hour and a half of vigorous swimming, I've sometimes felt that the last thing I wanted to do is hold my breath between strokes. But as I've prayed with the idea that God gives all His children constant energy, I'm able to finish the practice strong.
Proving it ...
After all those practices, a swim meet is a performance and an opportunity to take everything I've learned and put it to work. This includes using the ideas I've been praying with in Christian Science. One thing that's been important for me to remember is that I'm always expressing God when I'm swimming my events. No matter what the scoreboard says, I'll always experience true success if I focus on expressing God. Even when I haven't done well in a certain event, I've been able to move on to the next and not get discouraged, when I think about these ideas.
Sometimes participating in such an individual sport can be lonely. Even in relays, you're in that lane alone. Although the cheering from the sidelines and the desire not to let down your team helps, you're swimming for long periods of time—especially in distance events—and no one is there to help carry the burden. That's why it's been extremely helpful for me to remember that God is always by my side. I'm never alone and never have to fight for myself, so to speak, because I have my Father-Mother God watching over me and everyone.
This idea of leaning on God for support helped me when I was swimming at the Utah state Junior Olympics. In the 100-meter breaststroke, I found myself swimming almost equally with another swimmer when I started the last half of the event. I starting thinking that I had to beat him, and panicked a little.
But then I realized that it really didn't matter if either one of us won, as long as we pushed each other to do our best. Since we were both expressing God, as everyone does whenever they're doing something good, we were, in reality, equally matched. This helped calm me down a lot and gave me confidence that a good outcome would result. I ended up being first in my round of the event.
Whether I'm in a relay race during a meet, or doing sprints in the pool to improve my time intervals, I'm glad that I can trust God to give me guidance. And these efforts help me grow in my practice of Christian Science, too.
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Erik Gates lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he swims for the Cottonwood Heights Aquatics Team. He also likes to mountain-bike and cross-country ski.
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