A toddler splashes his hands under the steady stream of water from the small backyard fountain. Time and again, he pulls his hands towards his face to study the drops that remain in his palms, then he pushes his fingers through the tiny waterfall again, giggling in delight at the wonders of the water. What is it about water that so fascinates him? Every year, this now almost-six-year-old little boy counts down the days through winter until the sun heats the pool water to 78 degrees – just high enough for his mom and grandma to let him swim again. On that first day of summer swimming, he hurries into his suit, wiggles impatiently through the obligatory sunscreen application, and cannonballs into the pool. After a few underwater strokes, he emerges from the cool depths with a giant grin on his face.
A dear friend took these photos of my son when he was a pre-schooler, playing in my friend’s backyard. As I poured over family pictures recently, the beauty of this moment captured my heart.
Something in his fierce concentration and pure joy with this incredible discovery spoke to me.
I remember a fierce rainstorm, one of many really, that pummeled our house with water when I was about 12. My best friend and I had to walk through the rain to get to the bus stop about three blocks away. The wind whipped at our clothes as we ran down the street. My friend had an umbrella she was struggling to keep right-side out. Every few steps, a gust of wind would lift that umbrella up with such force that it took my friend with it. We laughed at her Mary-Poppins like appearance as the rain drops blurred our vision. In between these momentary bursts of flight and our pauses to fix the umbrella, we pushed our legs against the streaming rain. As we rounded our last corner, we saw the bright yellow-orange school bus pull away from the corner. With all of our efforts, we still had not arrived to the bus stop on time. We turned around, and headed back the way we had come – soaked to the bone and laughing at this adventure that had befallen us.
I don’t remember how we made it to school that day. I don’t really remember much about the walk home. I do, however, remember the feeling of warm, dry clothes, and a soft afghan tucked around my shoulders. My wet hair sent a small shiver through me, but my rain-soaked skin felt refreshed and invigorated, and the crisp chill from the entire journey to the bus stop made the warmth of these simple things – dry clothes and a handmade blanket – seem like a miracle.
I’m sure many have seen the meme, or heard the phrase, “All I need is a dose of vitamin ‘sea’.” The rhythmic lapping of waves upon the grains of sand lull us to a sense of peace. The vastness of the ocean reminds us of the greatness of our God. The chill of the water against our skin as we splash in the surf seems to wash away the dirt and grime of our day-to-day lives. The feel, the sound, the power of the water are life-giving elements for our souls.
In the beginning of God’s story with man, He used the waters of the earth to establish a promise to His people. After sending the Flood to eliminate the evil of the earth, he told Noah, in Genesis 9:15, “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” In fact, as further faithfulness in this covenant, God has used waters to demonstrate His love for His people.
Throughout history, God has used water to manifest His very presence on Earth. From the Flood, to the parting of the Red Sea, to Jesus turning it to wine, water has been a vehicle God uses to demonstrate His faithfulness, His power, and His forgiveness for His people. Understanding the significance of water to mankind, He even chooses to use it as a symbol of Everlasting Life: “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Now, as I look back at these images of my son playing in a fountain of water, I see the beginnings of an understanding for him. It begins with a fascination for water – the earthly water that refreshes our body, quenches our thirst, and calms our spirit – the earthly water that creates adventures through winter storms and brings life through spring rains. Someday, this fascination with earthly water will translate to a much deeper understanding for my little boy. Someday, he will see through this earthly water to the deeper, more perfect, more miraculous heavenly water. Through splashing, jumping, and swimming, he is experiencing the concrete version of what I pray he will one day experience in his soul. One day, he will read about “living water” in the book of John. He will read about the concept of servant-hood through the washing of feet. He will discover the joy and rebirth that comes with baptism through water and the Holy Spirit. His love of water will become a love for the Living Water.