“I’m not sure I can do this. I’m too much in my head. I’m panicking.”
The instructor, Alex, just watched me, not at all worried that I was actually going to drown — he wouldn’t allow it, after all — calmly asking, “Why are you in your head? Why are you panicking?” He allowed time and space for me to work out the answers for myself, for my nervous system to settle a bit, for me to say I was ready to return to the bottom of the pool.
He wouldn’t have let me drown, but he also wasn’t going to make the experience easy for me — not by offering platitudes, nor by offering the option to get out of the pool and rest, nor by naming that I could quit altogether if I really, really wanted to quit. (Though I’m confident that if I’d really wanted to quit, he wouldn’t have stopped me.)
After a few minutes, I put my gear back in place and returned with Alex to the bottom of the pool, where the other two students and the Dive Master In Training were waiting patiently for us.
I didn’t quit — not then, not at all — though I entertained the notion more than once. Two days later, I was following Alex around a coral reef 60 feet underwater in the Caribbean Sea. And at the end of that third day, I had earned the PADI Open Water Diver certification.
I didn’t quit. And also, I didn’t love the experience. For those three days, I experienced more worry and fear and pain (coral fights back when one fails to maintain neutral buoyancy and lands on it with bare legs!) than I did awe and wonder at the beautiful life under the sea.
And still, I’m glad I did it — glad I risked this particular physical and mental discomfort, glad I didn’t quit, glad to have learned a new skill, glad to have seen stingrays and barracudas and coral in their natural habitat, glad to have experienced the sea in this extraordinary way.
Some of you will remember from my pre-sabbatical Risking Discomfort sermon that I considered rock climbing during the first week of April. I did not, in the end, do that. Instead I remained contentedly on the ground, serving as photographer, videographer, and cheerleader for the climbers in our group.
I’m not sure I’d have been able to complete the dive certification during that first week of April, either. Four months later, after some deeply restorative rest, my energy reserves were fuller, and I was more adequately equipped to address the panic-inducing challenges of learning to breathe underwater.
And that encapsulates the most essential sabbatical takeaway for me — the value of rest, of unhurried time and space, of restored energy, of resisting the pull of contrived urgency.
The past five months contained many beautiful moments, some fun adventures, quality time with family and friends, and lots of good books. I am immeasurably grateful to have had this time. And I return to our UUCC ministries with an unhurried mindset, hopeful that together we’ll tend to that which is truly most important, allowing the space and time we need not to drown.