I grasped the edge of the starting block with my fingertips, anxiously anticipating the buzzer. It rang out, loudly reverberating off the tile floors and walls. My muscles tensed as I prepared for the physical struggle and my body reacted immediately. I leaped from my perch and immediately felt the cold water envelope my body as I disappeared beneath the surface. I completed a few strokes, my head broke the plane of water and my ears registered the cheers from the spectators as we raced our way to the finish line.
I was in eighth grade and it was my first (and only) year on the swim team. Because of my long limbs and tall frame, the coaches were eager to have me participate. They seemed to believe in me much more than I did, because if I was being honest, I hated swimming for sport! I got out of breath quickly and felt claustrophobic as I could never seem to breathe without taking in a mouthful of water.
This particular race was the 200 meter breaststroke. It is a rhythmic stroke in which your head comes completely out of the water every time. Nobody volunteered for the 200 meter anything because, as a 13 year-old, it’s basically impossible! So, the coaches volunteered for me. Which is how I found myself struggling to complete a race I never wanted to enter.
Three laps in, my lungs were burning. My arms seemed as if they were fighting against me rather than for me. I was so far behind, I contemplated just giving up altogether. It’s not like they really needed me for the team score anyway. I decided the next stroke was going to be my last. I fought to get my head above the water one last time and it was then that I saw her.
My teammate, Lisa, was walking beside me on the pool deck. She matched pace with my strokes and as my head broke the surface, I heard her yell, “One more! One more! Keep going!” I gasped for air, and fought for another stroke. I surfaced once more as she continued to walk beside me shouting encouragement. And just like that, I did keep going. Not for me, but for her. Not because I had any fight in myself, but because she was fighting for me.
So many people in this world are swimming a lonely, difficult race. They’re struggling to take another stroke and fighting for that next gulp of air, ready to surrender. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us that God comforts us so that we will comfort others. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. We are to take an active role in the lives of those who are suffering around us. We are allowed to walk through our own suffering so we can come alongside those who need encouragement, and because we know what they’re going through, we have a deeper understanding of their need.
Seek out that person in your life who keeps slipping beneath the cold waters of depression and encourage them to fight for one more breath. Walk beside that person who is weary and weak and let them hear your voice so they know they’re not alone. Fight for that person when they have no fight left.
I finished my race that day. I gave everything I had and when I had nothing left to give, Lisa gave me some of hers. Let us love well. Let us bear one another’s burdens as if they are our own. Above all else, don’t miss another opportunity to walk with someone who will look back one day and say, “I finished my race well because of them.”