I’m always caught off guard and laugh when people say, “I don’t know how you do it. You just seem so together.” Honestly, I’m shocked that I appear that way, EVER. I’m caught off guard because I rarely feel like I have anything together, and that I’m mostly treading water.
Most of my days are chaos management from wake until sleep. Toddler wrangling (he really struggles with wearing pants and socks), sibling fights, packing everything everyone needs for the day, making sure I’ve included enough food in lunches, realizing I need to go grocery shopping (again. I swear I JUST went!), drop offs, work, appointments, pick up, dinner, homework, laundry, prep for tomorrow, children are fighting, baby is hungry, bills to pay, husband would appreciate 30 seconds of my undivided, uninterrupted attention.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Treading water: the act of moving in a large body in order to keep your head above water, without making any directional progress. See also: a failure to advance or progress.
Some elite military training requires a water treading training and testing that involves hands out and ears always above water, while tossing medicine balls and wearing weighted vests and belts. Sometimes this occurs after grueling open water swimming.
The only way to endure that kind of physical demand is to train, build muscle strength, mental strength, and endurance. Military live together, train together, encourage each other, rely on each other. They understand the code and live by it, because to choose not to can be the difference between life and death.
Eventually, though, they stop treading water. It’s an exercise to prepare them, not the thing for which they are preparing. They complete their training and move forward. Treading water for great lengths of time could save their lives, but it’s not why they train.
Here’s the thing about treading water for great lengths: it’s exhausting.
We are not meant to indefinitely tread water. We are meant to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) We are reminded that “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. (Psalm 23:1-2)
We are not meant for weariness and exhaustion, despite our willingness to dwell there. Your treading water may not be throes of motherhood like mine. Perhaps you are treading in deep and consuming grief. Family and friends feel you should have moved on by now, and yet each day you move enough to keep your head above water. Maybe you’re trapped in a job you can’t stand, but aren’t able to move on just yet. Perhaps your relationships are strained and seem to be lacking the intimacy you need.
Treading water is an exercise, not a destination. Treading water prepares you. It equips you. But it does not serve you nor God to stay there.
Consider instead: be still. Even for a moment. Long enough to let your weary body find rest in Him. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.” (Psalm 127:1-2) Have you ever thought that you’re only treading because the idea of stillness terrifies you? We can delude ourselves into believing that any movement is better than no movement. But God reminds us, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:7)
Maybe, like me, you just need reminding that it’s training season. Right now, while I am treading water, my children are growing, watching, and learning. They are watching my actions and behavior, and they’re learning how to respond and navigate the world around them by how I do model it. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40.31)
I hope that, as my children grow and our family changes, I notice the moments when God calls me to stillness. Muscle memory is a powerful thing, but not more powerful than God. We can all get stuck in the same spot, keeping our heads just above water. Trust God when He calls you to be still.