“I’ve got your back!” That’s such an encouraging affirmation, isn’t it? You can breathe a sigh of relief to know that someone is determined to look out for you, to protect you from harm when you are vulnerable or defenseless.
Not everyone has a co-worker, friend, or family member who they can depend on to say, “I’ve got your back!” when others are stabbing you in the back. Sometimes, when you are betrayed, the only one you will hear make that promise is God. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” When you feel like you are drowning in hurt or fear, God will not let you sink.
When I taught Red Cross swimming lessons, one of the first techniques I taught the beginners (called the “minnows”) was how to float on their backs. Do you remember how restful and peaceful it feels to float on your back? More than relaxing and fun, knowing how to float can save your life if your get into trouble in the water.
With the child standing in waist deep water, I gently held on to her as she leaned her head back, raised her feet up from the security of the pool floor, and stretched out on the top of the water. I tucked my arms under her back as I encouraged her to relax, rest on the water, and enjoy floating. Only when my new little minnow felt safe and confident did I ask if she was ready to float on her own. If yes, I slowly removed my arms from underneath. If at any point she got nervous, stiffened up and started sinking, my arms were there to catch her.
Sometimes our experience of God’s everlasting arms underneath us are as obvious and clearly known as my arms were to that child. Other times, they are clearly a matter of faith in what is unseen and not immediately obvious.
When I caught Covid this summer, a memory returned of floating on my back in the lake. I had to quarantine for a week in one of our retreat guest houses where I spent a lot of time in a rocking chair on the front porch. Often too exhausted even to read, I simply sat there staring out at the trees and the sky. Apart from the occasional lawn mower in the distance, the only sounds to break the silence were birds and insects. I could close my eyes and just “float.” Giving my whole self over to rest brought back those summer memories of floating on my back in the water.
How grateful I am that when I was a child, my mother taught me how to float on my back in the pool and held her arms underneath me until I confidently floated on my own. She had my back. Years later, when I got very tired swimming across a lake, I remembered to turn over on my back to float and rest. It probably saved me from drowning. I’ve found that resting in God (trusting) in times of distress is much like that. Granted, floating on your back is not walking on water. But even when Peter lost faith and started sinking, the everlasting arms of Jesus were there to save him. (Matthew 14:22-33)
By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB