Lessons 1 and 2 (3 and 4 next week)
Well, maybe not even “almost” everything, but important lessons about the Body of Christ, as envisioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, can be learned at a YMCA swim meet. I’ve become more aware of these lessons, Saturday after Saturday, winter after winter, as my kids have been swimming meet after meet, since they were young (they are both teenagers now and still competing on the local Y team).
Lesson #1: Winning is not the point of the game or, better still, You don’t know who wins and you don’t care.
Heats are set up so that swimmers who have not previously competed in that particular event before swim first, then the heats are arranged from the slowest to the fastest. But, in those heats, the swimmers are all mixed, boys and girls, various ages. For some heats, you might have a 17-year-old boy swimming against a 15- year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, along with others. You know who won the heat, but you don’t know—sometimes for days—who actually won or placed in each event. They shake everything out after the meet is over. My kids will get ribbons days or even weeks after the meet. I’m still amazed, as they are as well sometimes, to find that one of them had come in first or second or third in an event—in their age group and gender. But, at the meet itself, unless you are paying very close attention to everyone’s time, you don’t know. You don’t really know who’s the fastest until later and not only that, it really doesn’t matter.
For the body of Christ, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter who’s the “best” at something—after all, we shouldn’t even assume that we know who is the “best,” because God doesn’t look at the world in the same way we do.
Lesson#2: It’s important to develop your strengths, but it’s also important to explore talents that are yet untapped.
Swimmers usually find, over the course of their swimming “careers” on the YMCA team, events in which they feel comfort and in which they do well—and to continue to work on improvement in those events. But, swimmers are also encouraged by their coaches to explore new events. During a recent meet, I noticed this dynamic in an especially interesting way.
There was one event that involved a few of the local team’s—the Dolphins—faster swimmers, including my daughter Margaret, swimming in an early heat of the 200 backstroke. They were swimming in one of the first heats because none of them had ever competed in the event before. One of the boys – a very fast swimmer—was clearly out of sorts. He doesn’t usually swim in an early heat. He usually swims in the final heat. He’s the local high school’s fastest boy swimmer. And, he didn’t like where he was.
We may become very comfortable in where we think we belong in the body of Christ, we may know that like being a foot or a upper arm or a knee, but it’s also good to get a sense of what one of the other parts does, even if it feels a little disconcerting and puts us a little out of sorts.
It’s important to strengthen our gifts and talents, to continually try to improve those things that we do well, but it’s also important that we not stifle the emergence of new gifts and talents and that we accept God’s grace that allows us to try new things, and to explore untapped potential.
The body of Christ finds strength when God’s people find their place in the body, that in the diversity of our talents we discover and experience a way of life that offers hope and love to all of God’s people—a unity in the midst of diversity that lifts up everyone and expresses itself just as beautifully as a swimmer gliding gracefully through the water.
Lessons 3 and 4 next week. Stay tuned.