There were no swimming pools in the small town of Vernal, Utah, where I spent most of my childhood, so we swam in irrigation canals. Some of them were deep and could be dangerous if you weren’t a fairly good swimmer.
Many of my friends were a little older than I was, and they knew how to swim. I did not. I didn’t want my friends to know that, though, so when I went with them, I made excuses and played around on the bank, or went to where the water was shallow and acted as if I was swimming. I was really just pushing on the bottom of the canal with my feet and dog-paddling with my hands, but I kept faking it, thinking nobody knew that I couldn’t swim. My dad knew, however, and one time he said to me, “I don’t mind your going with the boys to the canals, but I want you to promise me that you will never go into water that is over your head unless an adult is there and knows what you’re doing.”
That was a problem for me. I didn’t like his rule because it meant that I wasn’t always free to go with my friends. But I agreed to do what my father had asked.
One day several of my friends were planning to go to a canal I had never been to before. I asked them if it was deep, and they said, “Oh, yes, it’s a really good place to swim.” They told me it was a wider, deeper canal than most—forty feet or so across.
When I told them I couldn’t go, they wanted to know why, so I finally told them, “I promised my dad I wouldn’t swim in water that’s over my head, because I can’t swim very well.” That was the way I put it: “I can’t swim very well.” So we hunted around to see if we could find an adult, and my uncle, who lived next door and happened to be home, agreed to go there with us.
The first thing my friends did when we got there was swim to the other side. I still hadn’t told them I couldn’t swim, so I thought, Well, now is the time; I have to do it.
I got into the water and started across, and somehow—driven by panic more than anything else, just flailing my hands and feet in the water—I made it to the other side. But then my friends turned around and swam right back, leaving me alone on the bank.
I said to myself, I made it once; I guess I can do it again. And I started across. But by this time I was too tired, and the way I was “swimming” was wearing me out. I reached the middle of the canal and just couldn’t go any farther.
I went down. I don’t know how deep the water was there, but I remember seeing it get darker and darker as I sank deeper. I held my breath, and when my feet finally touched the bottom, I pushed off for the top. I was above the water just long enough to look around and see my uncle sitting over on the bank before I went down again.
When I came back up, I yelled to my uncle for help, then down I went again. I didn’t think to inhale when I got to the top and then exhale as I went down; I was trying to do both at once, and there wasn’t much time for it. When I came up again, I saw that my uncle had jumped into the water and was swimming after me. By the time he reached me, I was at the point where I thought I couldn’t do it anymore because I wasn’t getting enough air. My uncle was a powerful man, however, and he pulled me to shore. I lay there panting and gasping, but I was OK.
I have thought about that incident often since then. How grateful I am for a father who was wise enough to put safeguards around my life. I could have died that day by giving in to the pressure of my friends, but my dad had made a rule that there be an adult with me, and that rule saved my life. I learned to value obedience. Obedience is not just to please someone else—it is for our own good.
It is important that children feel gratitude for a wise and loving Heavenly Father who has taught us what is best for us. It is much easier to develop and maintain faith in our Father’s ways when we have learned to be obedient in our youth. We can then gain access to many heavenly gifts, such as receiving answers to prayer, knowing what is good and right, and feeling the Lord’s love for us.
When we are obedient to His rules, we are guided, blessed, and protected from spiritual harm and danger. I know that the Lord loves us and wants each of His children to be safe and happy.