THE BREATH OF LIFE
About 24 years ago, my family was enjoying a day at a popular water park in Utah. My wife and our two young sons were relishing a day splashing in the water, going down slides and soaking up the warmth of the summer sun, as part of a much needed break from undergraduate studies and work.
One of the popular attractions was one of those artificial wave pools, which starts out very shallow and then gets progressively deeper as you get closer to the big wall where massive pump engines suck and push the water in and out to create cycles of man-made waves. It looked like tons of fun and I had been out in the deeper areas with a float tube on previous visits and found it quite exhilarating.
But my then youngest son, Tyler, who was only 2 years old also found it interesting and kept wanted to wander over there, so while the waters were still and calm, I decided to wade out with him in my arms in the shallow area to feel the splashing waves at our legs and the cheering and screams of joy of the other occupants of the pool. Not wanting to get into any danger I waded out about thigh-high or just below waist deep, no more than 3 or so feet, where I felt comfortable holding him in my arms.
The signal bell rang and the water began to ebb and flow. At first it was harmless, as the small waves began to slosh back and forth around us. But as the massive pumps began to operate at full force, I found to my dismay that I was standing in an area where the smaller waves on either side of me were converging into a large wave which was cresting right in front of where we were located. And they kept getting bigger and bigger with each succession. Very soon, this larger combined wave was sloshing me back and forth and I realized I needed to retreat to even shallower depth.
As I turned to work my way back to the shallows, one of the growing, cresting waves, struck me in the back and I fell forward onto my face, with my young toddler in my arms. I panicked as the wave pushed me down onto the floor of the pool and then sucked backwards, trying to pull me back towards the depths behind me. Realizing my young son was underwater I frantically lifted him up with my right hand in attempt to get him above water, as I scrambled to get up onto my knees and to try to stand. But before I could get my feet underneath me, another wave hit my back and slammed me back downward again. As several of these attempts repeated themselves, I realized to my horror that I was only getting very small moments in which I could take a brief, partial, gasping breath, before I was slammed back down and inhaling small bits of water, which made my throat spasm and want to cough. And all of this was compounded by the fact that I was still struggling to keep my son above water as much as possible, but unsure if he was still breathing or what state he was in.
I thought about trying to scream for help when my head briefly came above water, but the entire pool was full of people screaming and yelling in delight, and no one even knew of the struggle I was experiencing.
And the waves just kept coming, and coming, and coming. No matter how desperately I struggled with my left hand and two feet, I could not get to my knees or feet sufficiently long enough to either stand up above the waterline, or progress further toward the shallows. And with each wave, I feared I was being pulled back into the deeper abyss.
My desperation quickly turned to panic, and then transformed into absolute terror and despair, and I became convinced that I may likely drown in a mere 3 feet of surging water. And all the while I was terrified for the fate of my small son, who I was desperately trying to raise up above my head with one arm, but unsure if he was actually any better off than I was.
It is amazing how in such instances, time seems to change and how a thousand thoughts can compress themselves into a mere fraction of a moment. I actually considered my options. I could let go of my son, and use my second hand to help raise me from the bottom, and then try to locate and lift my son. But this would consign him to dropping below the water where he would surely be washed away from me and I may not be able to retrieve him, and would increase his likelihood of drowning. No, I could never let him go!
As I grew frantic for air and the impulse to breath was screaming for relief, I began to see sparks in my head and I realized that I would soon lose control and either impulsively take a breath and inhale water, or I may pass out and then would lose all ability to recover. And I suddenly knew with complete certainty that I was going to die!
As I resigned myself to this fate, and accepted it, I suddenly quit thinking about myself and my own predicament. I knew that I would die, so I instead, in one of those compressed nano-second moments, prayed silently from the depths of my soul, “If I must die, please save my son!” I didn’t care what happened to me anymore. I was willing to accept my fate and embrace it, and I was fine with that if it meant my son could somehow live, and so this was where all my energy and heart was pleading to the Lord to take me if He needed, but please save my son. All of my effort was focused on keeping him above water as much as possible, so that he could breathe, so that he might somehow live.
It was in this very moment of submission and when I forgot myself and was totally focused on the welfare of my son, and all of my desire was only for his safety, that the waves began to slow and lessen in intensity. The water receded and was suddenly able lift my head and take a gasping breath of air. It was the breath of life!
I was finally able to get up onto my knees and raise my trunk upward and with certainty lift my son completely out of the water. And as the water continued to calm behind and around me, I was utterly spent and exhausted. Gasping for air and coughing and spitting water from my lungs, I heard the most joyous sound I could have heard in that moment – my son crying!
I was completely overjoyed that he was alive and breathing enough to be wailing in tears! And as I crawled forward on my knees (because I literally didn’t have the strength to stand at that moment), I was simply overcome with gratitude. Just being able to breathe and knowing that my son was alright was worth more than any worldly treasure or accomplishment, and I poured out silent thanks to my Father in Heaven for His mercy in delivering us from our terrible predicament.
I have to admit, that I have never once entered a wave pool again since that day. But I have been able to draw several comparisons and insights about it and from it. And while this list is not exhaustive, it may be informative to you as well:
1. In life, we often think we can control our circumstances and feel we are safe to wander off the solid footing of the straight and narrow path, thinking that we can enjoy a few thrills and handle things alright without any risk. But in reality, things can and usually do escalate quickly beyond our control when we leave spiritually solid ground behind. We may have our moments of thrill and delight, but they come at great risk and potentially deadly cost.
2. When the waves of life come crashing down around us, we are pretty much helpless to deliver ourselves. We cannot stop the forces of mortality around us, and must suffer the consequences of our actions, and are powerless to change them. We fall victim to their merciless and crushing forces… UNLESS we seek help from a Lifeguard who walks on water and has the power to calm the stormy seas around us, and is able to reach down as He did to Peter and lift him from the waves and cold depths of life’s deadly tides.
3. I realize that my experience cannot even begin to compare in any significant degree, but I feel gained an ever-so-small, fractional experience of what kind of desperation the Savior might have suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I think of how the scriptures describe Him being sore amazed and astonished to the point He fell down upon His face (Matt. 26:36-39), I am humbled to tears to consider how the massive waves of sins, suffering and sorrows of all mankind beat down upon Him with their eternal weight for nearly 3 agonizing hours. This was so great that even our Lord cried out, “Please, if there is any other way, please take this cup away from me!” But He willingly submitted, accepted and partook of the bitter cup.
4. It was when I submitted and lost all thought or concern of myself, and instead focused upon the welfare and salvation of another that relief and salvation finally came. In similar manner, the power of the Atonement was wrought when the Savior submitted, accepted and let His will be completely swallowed up in the will of the Father that the miracle was able to be accomplished, and deliverance and salvation was finally extended to all of us. He was willing to, and did in fact, offer Himself a sacrifice and gave up His life so that we all might live! His love and concern for us and our eternal welfare is the definition of what Love truly is. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life, for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25) And “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13) We too will find ourselves and the blessings we seek, when we begin to lose ourselves in the Lord’s service and in service to our fellow men and women. CHARITY never faileth, and is the pure love of Christ, and if we want to become like Him and be worthy to dwell with Him again someday, this will be “THE” essential quality we will need to possess!
5. When I was drowning, I could not bring myself to let my son go, and give up his life. I was desperate to save him no matter what the cost, just so that he could live and be safe. As I consider what our Heavenly Father must have experienced as He witnessed His “Beloved Son”, Jesus Christ, suffering, being mocked, beaten, smitten and nailed to a cross…. Somehow He was able to let His Son go, and sacrifice Him so that ALL of us could have a chance to live.
I stand all amazed at the love that They offer me! And you! And all of us!
The reality and amazing grace of it all, is the fact that when the storms and waves of life are beating us down, the Lord is right there in the midst of it all, with us, reaching down to lift us, if we will but turn to Him and reach up for His help. He doesn’t cause the suffering which comes as the result of our bad choices or because of the nature of opposition this mortal life offers. He also doesn’t cause the trauma and waves of abuse or unjust suffering and punishment that come because of the wickedness of others which affects us. But even in these situations, which are no fault of our own, He is willing and able to help lift us above the waves, put our feet back on solid group, heal us both body and soul, and beckon us onward along the path which leads back to Him.
The waves are sure to come and beat upon us. He mercifully grants us times of peace and placid waters to regain our bearings and make strides forward, but he also allows the waves to return so that we can remember that He is the one that allows us to stand and grants us one truly remarkable “breath of life” to the next. These experiences serve to keep us humble and remind us to cry out to Him with greater conviction and focus and to be more grateful for the peaceful moments when they come. And it is during those moments of desperate desire and reaching for Him, when we truly find Him.
“When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do. When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you.” – (Pres. Russell M. Nelson, April 2017 General Conference)