For several years I have been swimming laps for exercise. I love the water and I love the routines surrounding lap swimming. The silence and discipline of this activity give me a time alone when I can pray, think and plan. There is a rhythm, a routine and also etiquette to be practiced at the swimming pool. Adult swimmers don’t yell or slap the water or even talk much to one another during lap swimming. Maybe a polite nod to those in the adjacent lanes, but that’s about all. It is a time for private exercise, contemplation and attuning your mind and body to the quiet beauty of the water.
Since there are a limited number of swim lanes at the pool, there is some anticipation on arriving. You have to check the lanes and see if one is free for you. One day I arrived, walked into the pool arena and instantly knew that something was out of kilter; something was wrong. From the far side of the pool came the sounds and movement of someone making an incredible racket in the water. In the next-to-last lane, a man was stirring up the pool and splashing water over several lanes on each side. He was a dark-haired man, heavily built and he was struggling violently through the water, attempting a very jerky butterfly stroke. The whole environment was being disturbed by this performance. Of course, the only lane available for me was one right next to him.
Now… swimmers can get possessive about their territory and as I slipped into the water and into my stroke, I began to be more and more ruffled by this man. To make matters worse I observed that he was wearing several heavy gold chains around his neck, sort of a “macho man” in the water and I was beginning to growl under my breath. Every time he passed me in the lanes, a wave of spray from his wild stroke would hit me on the head. My hackles were really up. The judgment came rolling easily out of my heart and mind. “Macho, Rude, Neophyte.”
Suddenly, I noticed something else about this man’s swimming…there was no kick splash. None at all. The next time he passed me I ducked my face underwater and since I was wearing goggles, I could clearly see his lower body. His withered legs and feet were curled in the posture of one who had lost all use of these limbs. He was handicapped from the waist down.
In my shock and shame, my Dear Lord, Jesus Christ, made His entrance, speaking to me in my mind and heart. As I swam and watched, my Lord showed me clearly the reality of my swimming neighbor’s condition. I watched him glide past me once more through the pale blue water and I saw the delicacy and innocent beauty of those crippled limbs.
Through Jesus’ eyes I saw the truth about my brother. Jesus spoke to me kindly as I watched. “I love this man” He said, and He went on smilingly, “I love his weakness, his weak legs and feet. They are precious to me. They are beautiful. Even more precious than his strong arms and thick neck, and his striving. My strength is made perfect in weakness. You are unqualified to judge this brother, whom I love.”
I was humbled and stopped my swimming, waiting quietly at the edge of the pool. I saw the man finish his laps and in exhaustion reach the pool edge also. With a great effort he pulled himself up onto the decking and sat there panting. He was, now that I could see him, much younger than I had thought, probably in his early twenties. By himself, he slowly pulled himself up into the wheelchair that was waiting there. Funny that I had not noticed it before. Then he wheeled himself away. I wondered for a long time if he knew that God loved and valued him. He had a grimly determined expression on his face.
Once again the Lord spoke to me. “You see,” He said, “man judges by the outward appearance, but I judge by what is not seen, by things hidden away from the surface of life.”