God in the Water

August 29, 2023
Archdiocese of Baltimore
Est. Reading: 3 minutes

“Okay this breathing thing is hard!”

I distinctly remember saying this to myself one evening while attempting somewhat frustratingly for the third time to swim. I was clinging to the edge of the deep end of the pool, after about five minutes of “warming up.” My lungs felt like I had just run straight up a steep hill, not swimming at a slow pace for a few minutes.

“Lord, why am I doing this?”

I remember thinking this as well. I was warned by some brother seminarians who swam when they were younger that there would be a learning curve, but their words did not prepare me for that feeling of being facedown in the water, legs kicking, arms pulling, and lungs absolutely begging for air, to stop, to rest.

I had run, cycled, done more burpees, pushups, sit-ups, and squats than I cared to admit. I hiked mountains, ran races. Despite not considering myself an athlete, I had been getting used to putting my body through difficult situations, so I didn’t think this would be much different. And yet here I was, at the end of my swimming lane, at the deep end of the pool, at the start of my seemingly pointless attempt to try something new, and I was already at the end of my rope.

I remembered three things at that moment.

First, having grown up with pretty severe asthma, I probably had a stronger inclination to avoid feeling what I am feeling in my lungs right now. So I clearly needed to teach my lungs to get used to this feeling.
“Okay. I think I can do that.”

Second, just like those difficult points of running a lap on the track, biking up the mountains, or any other physical endeavor, while I may have made the ridiculous decision to put myself in those situations, that didn’t stop the Lord from being with me in that moment. And it certainly didn’t stop me, in a rather mystical way, from entering into Our Lord’s passion, to being with Him in that moment as well. It may be painful, but it’s rich with meaning when I’m doing it with Him.

Third, I remembered a quote attributed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt … “when you reach the end of your rope … tie a knot and hang on!”

At that moment I launched from the wall, accompanied with a mix of frustration, desperation, prayer and even fury. At that moment, as I was facedown in the water, breathing out steadily, ignoring the inherent need for oxygen in my lungs, I felt as if I was not just swimming, but carving through the water! While it still felt painful, it no longer felt worthless, desperate or meaningless. Not only did I recognize something natural in myself — a need to deny some baser need in order to reach a higher purpose and goal – I also recognized that this could then lead to deep spiritual growth and communion, just like I have experienced through my runs, rides, and workouts.

I still get asked why I continue to put my body through these seemingly ridiculous and difficult things, and while it’s still a little hard to articulate my desire to do these things, my heart simply burns within me. I do these things not because they bring me pleasure right away, or even for days afterwards, but because they bring me closer to the Lord. Because in my preparation for the Holy Priesthood, it teaches me to live not for myself, but for Him alone.

Connor Schmidt is a Seminarian at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and
currently on Pastoral year at St. John’s Church in Severna Park. Connor’s Home Parish is St.
Ignatius in Ijamsville. Please pray for Connor!