Seeing Our True Abilities
Each of us has inside ourselves the ability to accomplish much more than we realize. Yet sometimes we let our fears and feelings of not being good enough stand in the way. In this week's Torah portion, we learn about how Moses had within him the ability to stand up against the cruel and powerful Pharaoh, and be the one to lead the entire Jewish people out from miserable slavery to freedom. At first even Moses didn't realize he could do it. But God encouraged him, and helped him to see his true abilities. Moses discovered his hidden potential and changed the course of human history. We, too, can learn how to see our true abilities, overcome the feelings that hold us back, and accomplish what we never thought we could.
In our story a kid discovers his hidden potential - in the bottom of a pool.
"OFF THE DEEP END"
It may have only been a 20 meter pool, but to me it looked like the Atlantic Ocean. As I stood there in line watching one kid after another jump in and swim to the other side, I knew only one thing: I could never do it.
I had been taking after-school swimming lessons. Everything went along fine at first. I learned to tread water, paddle like a dog, and even to do 'the crawl' stroke. Maybe I couldn't actually swim, but now, at least, I could flop around in the water long enough for a lifeboat to arrive. Let the typhoon come; I was ready.
But on the day of the last lesson, Mr. Walder, our instructor, told us that as a final exam we were all going to swim from one end of the pool to the other. I thought he was joking. But when he lined us all up on one side of the big indoor heated pool, I saw he was serious, and I knew only one thing - I was in way over my head. Maybe I knew how to tread water well enough to get by in an emergency, but I couldn't actually swim, and certainly not well enough to get across the whole pool!
As we got in line, I was careful to strategically position myself at the end of the line. I figured the hour-long lesson would probably finish well before they reached my turn, and I would be able to quietly return home to life on dry land.
But soon I saw that wasn't going to happen. The line was moving too fast. Somehow the same kids who just a couple of months ago couldn't swim across a bathtub were suddenly gliding across the pool like Olympic stars.
Now there were only two guys ahead of me and I began to panic. Maybe I could pretend I had a cramp, or explain to Mr. Walder how I had to get home early that day to baby-sit for my pet cat. One way or the other I would have to get out of it. After all, there was no way to do the impossible.
Mark, the guy in front of me, jumped in and now it was just the two of us - me and the instructor on one side of the pool, and everyone else on the other. "Okay, Scott, last but not least. Your turn!" called out the man with a smile, his shining whistle dangling on the chain around his neck.
I didn't move. It was embarrassing for sure to just stand there like a zombie, but it sure beat drowning! Mr. Walder came closer and asked, "What's going on, Scotty?"
"I can't do it, Mr. Walder," I answered between clenched teeth. "It's impossible. I can't swim across the pool."
I was afraid he was going to laugh, or start yelling at me. He looked at me, then at the water, shook his head and said, "I know just how you feel."
"It looks like an awfully long way from this side of the pool. But you know what? You can do it."
I was glad he felt that way, but that didn't change the impossible reality. I shook my head tensely. "No, you don't understand. I can't swim. I just can't do it."
"Look Scott," he said patiently. "It might seem like it is beyond you, but I've been watching you during all of these lessons, and I'm telling you, you can swim."
I shook my head.
"Scott, you have the tools. You know how to do the crawl stroke, move your arms and kick you feet, right?"
"And you know how to turn your head and breathe between strokes too, don't you?"
I nodded. It was true, but still...
"Scotty, guess what? That means you know how to swim!"
I was about to argue, then I gave his words a second thought. It was true, I could do all the things he mentioned. Did that mean I really could swim after all?
"So what do you say, Scotty?"
"Okay, but swimming across the whole pool? I mean, it's so far."
"It's just one crawl stroke after another. I'll be right there with you. I know you can do it, and I think by now you know it too. Go ahead, jump in and swim!"
I couldn't even believe I was doing it myself, but I asked God to get me across to the other side in one piece, jumped into the water and started doing the strokes just like he taught me. Miracle of miracles, a few minutes later I reached the other end of the pool!
"You did it man, you did it!" cried out the instructor. All the kids were cheering, and I felt incredible! Maybe I wouldn't win any Olympic medals, but I could swim! As I climbed out of the pool, I thanked God for getting me across the pool, and started to wonder about how many other things I really could do, but just didn't know it yet.
Q. How did Scott feel in the beginning when he was supposed to swim across the whole pool?
A. He was scared because he didn't think he really knew how to swim.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt great because he saw that he really had known how, he just hadn't realized it.
Q. What do you think Scott learned from this experience?
A. He learned that it's possible to do more than we think we can, and sometimes we have abilities inside of us that we don't even know about.
Q. Do you think it was right of the instructor to push Scott to swim across even though he didn't want to go? Why or why not?
A. One thing that brings out our hidden abilities is being challenged to go beyond what we feel comfortably able to do. It was the instructor's challenge - based on his expert knowledge of Scott's abilities - that helped him discover he could swim, and discover a new outlook on life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is there any limit to what we are able to accomplish?
A. The vast majority of us are only tapping into a tiny fraction of our true mental and physical and spiritual capacities. God created each of us with vast and powerful abilities, but He leaves it up to us whether we will choose to develop and use them. While limits may exist, if we really push ourselves we will discover that there are incredible and unimaginable accomplishments we can reach before even getting near those limits.
Q. Why do you think people so often fail to access their true abilities?
A. It is in many ways easier and more comfortable to live a life full of self-imposed limitations than to really challenge ourselves to constantly grow and bring more and more of our potential into actuality. We may be afraid of failing, and of the effort that growth requires. Yet there is nothing more rewarding and no greater "high" than really becoming all we are able. God wants us to become all that we can be and it is one of our main spiritual tasks in life.