When my oldest daughter was four, she announced that (among many other things) she intended to be a Swimmer. Maggie is a typical oldest child—with a long list of ambitions and plenty of spunk with which to chase them.
It was winter, and we didn’t have access to an indoor pool, so while visiting her grandparents for Christmas, Maggie was ecstatic when they offered to watch the baby so my husband and I could take her swimming. She’d been waiting impatiently for weeks—today was the day her dream would finally come true!
When we got to the pool, we climbed in and found an empty lap lane. My husband and I stood waist-deep, a few feet apart, poised to push her back and forth between us across the narrow width of the lane. He held her as she struggled to contain her excitement. In my best motivational coaching voice, I locked eyes with her, wiggled the lane rope just behind me, and said, “Okay, Maggie, this is your goal!”
But instead of pushing off, she scrunched up her face in a look of irritation, shook her head, and then, pointing to the far end of the pool—nearly 50 yards away—said, “No, Mom. That’s my goal.”
So many of our aspirations in life call for a thoughtful balance between the ultimate destination and the next few baby steps required to reach it. Like learning to drive, we have to master quick perspective shifts between the road signs up ahead and the instruments inside the vehicle. We need to know which street to turn on, but also which pedal is the gas, and which is the brake. The two perspectives, near and far, are interdependent: neither matters much without the other.
In the same way, I find it helpful to frequently shift my gaze between the eternal Then and the mortal Now. Being able to look far into the distance with a four-year-old’s faithful enthusiasm and declare, “That’s my goal!” is fabulous, but I also need some basic coaching and a whole lot of practice so I can master floating, kicking, and big circle arms.
In this regard, parenting has been a great teacher for me. Each day spent nurturing children feels like a constant gaze-shifting practice: instilling a celestial perspective while teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street!
But let’s be honest: there can be discouragement in the distance between Then and Now. Some days, the far end of the pool feels infinitely unreachable as your goggles keep fogging up and your back float has you going in circles. You might technically be “swimming,” but you don’t feel much like a Swimmer.
The fact is the best way to become a swimmer is to learn to love swimming.
There are some spiritual implications in that wisdom. For me, though I’ve always wanted to live a good life, learning to love life didn’t come naturally. Looking back on my younger years, I think I had more drive and determination than was good for me. Most days, life didn’t feel very fun. As my children grew, I could see they’d inherited these traits of mine. Seeing them struggle to feel happy—while working so hard—led me to search for serious answers about what mortality is really all about. Surely we’re supposed to enjoy the journey?
A deep dive into Eve and Adam and their learning experiences, both in and after the Garden, taught me so much about managing Then and Now. I finally figured out it’s actually possible to happily navigate both simultaneously—like taking side breaths while keeping your arms moving. Like Eve so powerfully testifies in Moses 5:11, we really can find joy, even amid life’s thorny patches. She figured out what President Nelson has so aptly stated: “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” By focusing on Christ—and working with Him—we can learn to love life, even when it’s hard.
A few months after Maggie’s first adventure in that lap lane, we moved to North Carolina, to a charming southern town with a neighborhood pool and a summer swim team. During those hot, sticky months, all the kids became Woodcroft Whirlwinds.
With a wide range of ages and skill levels, there was always a friend to look up to and learn from and always another to reach back to and help. The coaches were local college kids who were cool and fun and exuded team spirit. They taught the team cheers as enthusiastically as they taught swim strokes, so it was easy to learn to love both. And before we knew it, Maggie was a Swimmer!
Life is a lot like that. If we put on blinders and focus exclusively on the end goal, it can feel like an interminable slog. Better to surround ourselves with a strong support team, with Christ as Head Coach assisted by parents and prophets, mentors and ministers, and friends and neighbors. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Together, we can all lift and love through the process—with frequent glances up. When we do, what once felt like work begins to feel like play, and life becomes easy to love.