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Ernie and the Long Swim Home

by David Snapper on September 2, 2020

I have a great story for you. It’s not exactly true, but that doesn’t matter. I made it up years ago and tell it when I have the opportunity, so it’s especially good.

The great swimmer, Ernie Kowalski, was preparing for a competition in 1500 meter race, which is about a mile. To prepare, he swam one mile every day. One day Ernie and his training partner were dropped into the Pacific Ocean two miles off the shore of San Diego, where I once lived, which is how I came to know this story. Ernie and his friend swam for shore. Exactly one mile later, the friend said, “I’m a mile swim trainer. I swam a mile. I’m done.” And that poor guy disappeared below the waves, never to be seen again. Ernie was treading water, thinking.  He said, “I’m a mile swimmer. Hmm. I made it one mile, I can swim another.” Ernie swam to the beach that day.

I love Ernie’s story for many reasons.

For example, it reminds me finishing matters most. We know about Ernie, but nobody remembers his friend’s name. You don’t need to be first or best or the greatest. Just finish the course God gave you. That’s enough!

I also love the story because it reminds me that sometimes life is a series of manageable one-mile events. The secret to finishing is to go one mile at a time. Then one more. One more, and so on. Sometimes, when God puts us in deep water, we think it is too far and then I am reminded that God will not put us too far from his care.

I love remembering that in a series of decisions to keep going to the finish line. AA tells people with alcohol addiction problems they can stay clean and sober one day at a time. Good advice. Sometimes people can manage only one minute at a time. That’s good enough! If you get sixty minutes, you have an hour. And if you make it one hour, you can do two hours.  Many people have been rescued one minute at a time. A series of choices, not just one choice. Every day, I choose.

I love how Ernie reminds me to concentrate on what I am able to do one mile – and to not become paralyzed by what I cannot do – two miles. I can get through a tough day. I can be faithful today. I can spend the next ten minutes studying a Bible passage in more detail. I can take time to listen to God. I can. I know I can because God equips me for the challenge he gives me.

I love how Ernie reminds me of the joy of finishing and that I don’t want to sink in the middle of the ocean because I quit swimming. It’s easy to fail. Easy to give up, to quit. We want to finish.

I love how Ernie focused on swimming. He wasn’t worried about sharks, drowning, getting lost on the way home, loneliness, muscle aches and pains, if his Speedos were the wrong color or if all his muscles made him look funny. No. He focused on the big stuff. Finishing the next mile. He was a swimmer.
 

Here’s another passage I love. 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Paul writes to his friend Timothy. Paul is about to be martyred by the Emperor of Rome and he writes to tell Timothy how happy he is that when God put him in deep, deep water, that he kept swimming and God was with him all the way.  It goes like this:

Finishing Matters Most
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,

I decide daily to keep the faith in small steps, a mile at a time
I have kept the faith.

I am able and I will cross the finish line
 Now there is in store for me

There is joy in finishing the race
the crown of righteousness,

I am focused on my race because it is God’s plan for my life.

which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
 

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. [1]

 


[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (2 Ti 4:7–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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