My high school coach wasn't God..... but he had something in common with Him


A reflection from the DanielFoundation

October 2018 


Dear Friends,    

     In the mid 70's I had the opportunity to attend a high school in the Chicago area that had a storied swimming tradition dating back to the early 1960's. That was due, in large part, to our coach, the late Don Watson.   Part of Don’s brilliance is that he was willing to demand more of his swimmers than they knew they possessed.  That was Don the Prophet.   

  However, there was another side to Don:  Don the Priest.  He knew his swimmers.  He was alert to their rhythms, their dispositions and their corresponding limits.  He seemed to know when to spur them on and when to pull back on their reigns. 


I remember, for example, when as a sophomore, I walked onto the pool deck before practice.  Don walked up to me and said, , ‘Port (everyone had a nickname) go home and rest.  You're torn down.’   Being OCD about training, I was angry, fearing that I might lose ground by missing practice.  Nevertheless, off I went.  My hunch is that Don knew I was on the edge of mono, having seen it happen to other swimmers.   Looking back, I am so grateful that Don knew me and understood that I was more brittle than I realized, and that rest was more necessary than training at that point.   My college coach, Bob Steele, had that same uncanny ability. 


With that in mind, I recently happened across a rather mundane passage from the book of Exodus: ‘When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” We are told that God then elected to lead Israel on a different route, one by way of the Red Sea.  


My initial thought went something like this:  ‘OK, so they took the long route.  Who cares?  Let’s get on with it.  What’s next?’


I suddenly realized that I’d stumbled across a hidden treasure.  Think about it: The God who just finished delivering Israel through rather sensational means, knows what they can........and cannot, take.   He knew that Israel would implode at the sight of the Philistines, their faith being more porcelain than iron.  So God, like a good shepherd, reroutes their journey.  


Were I God, I’d have told Moses to tell Israel, ‘What’s wrong with you?!  Didn’t you just see me do my thing to Pharaoh?!  What do I gotta do to get you folks to believe that I can be trusted, Philistines or no Philistines?!’  In other words, 'Suck it up!  Get in the pool and start swimming!'  


God doesn’t go there.  Knowing their limits and the fragility of their faith, he leads them on a different, less traumatic path.  No shame.  No condemnation.  No mockery.  Just wise and tender shepherding.  It was God's way of saying, 'You need rest.' 


I don’t know about you, but I am glad that God is like that.  I’m glad that God doesn’t condemn us for the fragile state of our faith.  He knows what we can take and what we can’t; what will stretch us and what will destroy us. 


Rather than condemn us for the flickering ember that is our faith, he first protects it, so that he might later fan it into full flame.   This porcelain believer couldn't be more grateful. 





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