Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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Big Fish

Big Fish

I had a really crappy day last week.  Not a catastrophically crappy day—just a preponderance of small, seemingly simple things going less than smoothly. It was like the slow drip, drip, drip of water—one drop by itself is no big deal, but add them up over time and it really wears on you.

There was some printing trouble that really should have been routine. There was the coffee shop forgetting to put coffee in my coffee. (I wanted a mocha and ended up with a hot chocolate.) There was me choosing to make healthy decisions by venting with Joshua—calling him on his cell, not getting him; calling him at home, not getting him; texting him in caps with exclamation points, not getting him.

When we did get to talk (only two minutes after my texting breakdown) he wisely commented, “You must have a big fish on the line.”

This phrase is one of those marital codes we have developed over the years. It comes from a religious sister who commented that when something goes really wrong before a retreat, it means there must be a “big fish” on the line for the weekend—i.e., God must have something important in store, and this is how other forces are attempting to derail that plan using our most human foibles.

I am highly susceptible to human foibles. So I particularly appreciated Josh’s comment because it was a call back to my center. It was a call to set aside the distractions and focus extra hard on looking for God around me.

And not surprisingly, God was there. God was there when I ran into a former student, now a colleague, who checked in with me about how my day was going. God was there in the sincere, encouraging hug I received from another minister. God was there in the little toddler girl touring campus with her family who stared deeply at me even after she was well past me on the sidewalk. Her sweet innocent eyes just felt like God looking back at me, seeing me, seeing my struggles that day and inviting me in turn to see and know God was there with me, that all I had to do was look.

So did I have a big fish on the line?

Maybe.

We have had an unusually full summer. I avoid using the word “busy” because our pace has been just fine and even relaxing. But there are two particularly big projects that have taken over our time: one that has the capacity to impact a lot of folks for a good while into the future, and another that is just about our family.

In both cases, Joshua and I did not so much decide to take these things on, as much as had the option presented to us and followed those leads.  We feel like our investment in these projects was far less an act of our will and much more an active looking and listening for God’s will.

We had invitations extended to us and—thank goodness—rather than attempt to decide if we felt like doing them or had the time to fit them in or if we would benefit personally and professionally from them, we prayed about them. We took a hard look at the gifts, skills and resources we possess and asked ourselves if we thought God was calling us to apply them in this direction at this time.  In both cases the answer we received was yes, so we took a step forward.

At every frustrated, exhausted, or nervous moment during the summer when we looked back at the choice to say “yes” to the opportunities presented to us, we have found peace in knowing that we did not force these developments. Rather they were the product of sound discernment. We do not have a full sense of how far down these paths we will go, but we rest with confidence that we are on the right track when we are staying in tune with God’s will.

We know that there are forces opposed to goodness, and given the scale of the projects we have been involved in this summer, it is not surprising to find opposition to their development. When the water gets muddied, though, we always find clarity when we return to the source and cling to our trust in God.

That is part of what was so challenging and important in how my crappy day unfolded last week. In our lives there are SO many ways we can be distracted or put off of staying in tune with God. But it is essential to look for God in the little things so that we can see and hear God all the more clearly in the big things.


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