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Teaching A Stone To Swim

When we were preteens, my twin brother and I looked like the two digits in the number that represented our age (11). A runway model has more fat on her body than we did together.

That put us at a distinct disadvantage when Mom took us for swimming lessons at the local lake in the town.

First of all, the lessons started at 7 in the morning, and even though it was summer, nobody told the New England lake where we took the lessons that winter had passed. We could have used an extra layer of fat for insulation to keep us warm as we tip-toed our way into the chill.

When you start to swim, one of the first lessons they teach you (after you learn to put your face in the water) is to float. Great in theory; not so great in practice.

It’s not that we had a hard time following instructions:

  • take a deep breath
  • lay on your back

The problem was that our feet impersonated anchors and with little natural buoyancy to compensate from the rest of our bodies, we felt ourselves being dragged down to Davy Jones locker.

After a little practice and experimenting with a face-front position, we managed to fill our lungs to capacity and bob near the surface kind of like a jelly fish. Not the best for breathing but at least we were floating.

If you can’t float you can’t swim. What was difficult for us is impossible for a stone. You can dress it up in a fancy swimsuit, you can give it the very best lessons but nothing you do will succeed in teaching a stone to swim.

That’s all pretty obvious so what’s the point?

The point is this: what we would never attempt to do with a stone, we often attempt to do with people. We think if we just give the message clearly enough, repeat it often enough, increase the volume loud enough, people will change.

But people can’t produce a change in behavior until they have first experienced a change in being. Transformation comes from the inside out.

When we constrain people to do something that is inconsistent with who they are we don’t see long term results. I like the way author Neil Anderson puts it, “…we cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with who we are.”

We can only fake it so long, and then we revert to what our true nature demands–we sink.

Loud teaching, repeated teaching, sophisticated teaching, prolonged teaching, interactive teaching, will never enable a stone to swim. And neither will any attempt to to shape people of character without first providing for a change within.

Christianity is not an attempt to put water wings on a stone. It’s a transformation of human nature that does the equivalent of making a stone into a cork.

Jesus is the only one who can bring about such a change in our being that leads to a deep and lasting change in our behavior. It’s as though the stone becomes a cork and acquires a natural buoyancy. With that kind of change we gain the ability to float and are ready for swimming lesson to start.

Why is it then that so many Christians are still sinking? Why are so many marriages dissolving? Why are so many dreams in the drink? Haven’t Christians been changed at the core?

They have been changed. The old has gone and the new has come, but there is still something that holds them back.

That something is shame.

Shame convinces us that we are still a stone. It weighs us down and pull us into the depths so that swimming the waters of life becomes a tiring and treacherous prospect again. We revert to what we were–acting out of our self-centered nature–fearful, selfish, controlling.

C. S. Lewis put it this way, “I sometimes think that shame, mere awkward, senseless shame, does as much towards preventing good acts and straightforward happiness as any of our vices can do.”


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  • Leslie Valencourt September 5, 2014, 3:11 pm

    I am so, so pleased to see your years of work come to fruition! Your book is so simple, yet so profound. I know it will cause even more fruit to be borne as people read it and realize that indeed there is still hope for a life which is not dominated by shame. Thank you for your diligence to see this through to completion. I can only imagine what resistance you encountered.

    • Robert September 6, 2014, 10:09 pm

      Leslie, thanks so much for you kind words and encouragement. It has indeed been a long time coming and I’m glad to finally be able to kick things off. As you say, my hope is that people will be able to break free from a life snagged by shame and live fruitful lives full of joy and purpose.

  • Joan rood January 23, 2016, 11:15 pm

    God bless you for the work and teaching you are doing. It will surely do much to further His Kingdom as it brings hope and healing to many

    • Robert Walter January 18, 2017, 3:00 pm

      Joan, thanks for your reply and encouraging words. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back with you. Somehow your reply sneaked under the radar and I’m just noticing it now. Please forgive me. If you haven’t already please download my free ebook, “If I’ve Been Forgiven, Why Do I Still Feel Bad?” since I’ll be changing it to a paid product soon. Blessings to you, Robert

  • Phyllis M Terwey March 30, 2017, 10:03 am

    Good morning Robert,
    Great annalogy. Since I was young I’ve loved stones, looking at and turning them over in my hand, collecting some (hard for me to resist–even the big ones from the North Shore on Lake Superior, door stops of course).

    Still, on some days the tendancy to be stone needles me and I admit I take it on.One day a rock, now and then a boulder, even a pebble is annoying (shoes of course).
    Believe me, I’ll read the book. Fighting the fight of faith is what we do.
    Blessings for you and your love of the Lord Jesus and all of us as well.