Our family relished one of the last days of official summer last weekend by spending Sunday at the community pool together. The older kids are back at college, and one has officially moved out on his own after college graduation, so we didn’t have everyone. Still, it was a happy day together.
As I watched the girls splash in the water, (and did quite a bit of pulling around our youngest on a floatie in the pool myself) I pondered how little children, who initially flail and sink in the water, can learn in just a period of weeks or months how to execute a stroke and not just sink, but move forward with skill and confidence, and safety.
Over the years as a swim team parent, I’ve watched children as young as five make it from one side to the other of the pool with a parent’s (and/or coach’s) prodding, help and encouragement. Children, who are as young as nine years old, can be taught to execute four different strokes with proficiency. They are amazing, really! They can easily pick things up.
As I sat poolside, it occurred to me that teaching a child to swim is so much like faith formation.
Children on a swim team practice daily. They can’t develop expert strokes simply by diving in the pool leisurely once a week. They need practice. They also need someone to show them how to demonstrate the strokes, as well as explain how to do them.
Similarly, our children cannot develop expert spiritual muscles simply by addressing faith and morals on an occasional basis. When we verbally teach our children their catechism and about the Mass and rosary during class time we are doing a good thing, but when we consistently demonstrate our faith to them daily (saying the daily rosary together, discussing religious topics while chopping the dinner salad or setting aside time during a nightly walk to share personal experiences our faith and life) we are helping them far more in the development of ‘faith proficiency’ than any book or class experience does.
When our youngest children had trouble executing the butterfly stroke (I don’t know why but our entire family finds this stroke the most difficult) I’d take the children to pool frequently so they could practice again and again. After swim lessons we’d trek over to the large pool area and unload sandwiches I’d prepared beforehand. After this snack, we’d stay and swim for an hour or two. Nothing teaches swimming like….swimming.
Likewise, when our youngest children had difficulty paying attention and sitting through Sunday Mass I started taking them (like many mothers do) to daily Mass. There, they could see the altar better. They understood more because I explained more because we went more. They simply had practice. It was amazing how a simple explanation of what the liturgical colors meant and pointing out what was really happening at Consecration helped their understanding. Nothing teaches faith like….living faith.
Setting aside a summer so a child can learn the useful and fun skill of swimming is such a precious gift. It will last a lifetime. Setting aside time so a child can learn proficiency in his faith is an even more precious gift. It will last eternity.
I hope you enjoy these last days of summer with your family. And remember, practice makes perfect, in swimming… and faith. God bless!