How do we survive when we're feeling small, weak, vulnerable? I was thinking about this today and remembered a story about a couple puny little goldfish that my daughter won at a carnival years ago. It happened like this:
They were supposed to die. I had planned on it, counted on it, prepared my five-year-old daughter for the inevitable. From the moment Bethany won those two tiny goldfish at the carnival, I fully expected to be flushing them away a few days later.
I lifted the clear plastic bag and stared at the fish. One bumped against the side.
Bethany danced around me. “Yay, yay, yay, one for me and one for Joelle!” She tugged on my pantleg. “Do we have a bowl for them? Do we have food? What are we going to name them? Will they get bigger? Are they girls? I’m going name one Dorothy.” She grinned and clapped her hands.
I lowered the bag. The water sloshed inside it causing the fish to dip and spin. I brushed my hand over Bethany’s hair. “We have everything we need, Sweetie, but you know fish like this don’t live that long.”
“I don’t know. They just don’t.” I’d gotten fish like this many times before, some as carnival prizes, some with “three free goldfish” coupons from our local pet store. They never lived past the first week.
Bethany sighed. “Well, all right. But can we keep them anyway?”
“Of course.” I put my arm around her and smiled.
When we got home that evening, I carefully put the fish into a bowl of treated water and crumbed some fish food flakes on top.
Bethany pressed her nose against the outside of the bowl and watched with big eyes. “Maybe they won’t die right away.”
I patted her arm. “Bedtime now. Go get ready.” Then, I glanced back at the fish as Bethany scampered upstairs. I shook my head. They’ll probably be belly-up by morning.
But they weren’t.
The next morning they were swimming around their bowl and glowing with health.
“Look, Mom, they’re still alive!”
Give them a few days. I stifled the words and turned away.
A few days came and went. The fish still lived. I gave them until the weekend. They were still alive on Monday. I cleaned the bowl, treated new water, and waited.
Another week, another bowl cleaning, another and another. And still the fish lived.
One day I even dropped one of them into the sink as I was cleaning the bowl. I grabbed it up and threw it back into the water. It’ll die for sure now. But it didn’t. In fact, it’s been almost a year, and those tiny fish aren’t so tiny anymore.
Recently, I looked at them and wondered aloud, “Why have these fish lived when all my previous goldfish died so quickly?” After all, I treated their water too, and fed them the same food, and cleaned the bowl just the same as with these fish.
My husband, Bryan, answered from the other room, “It’s the water out here. It’s got to be.”
“Water? What do you mean?”
“All those other fish we had at our old house. Now we’re on well water. We had it tested. Remember? It’s pure, a lot purer anyway than that city water we used to get.”
The water - what they were surrounded in, what they lived in and breathed every day. Of course.
The next week, I was reading Philippians when I came to chapter four, verse eight (NIV). It said, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things.” And as I thought about the idea of purity and excellence, I remembered Bethany’s not-so-little fish. They were weak, and small, and destined to die quickly. But they lived because of the purity of the water, even after the hardship of dropping one in the sink.
People, maybe, aren’t much different. How well we survive, how well we thrive, may have everything to do with what we let our thoughts soak in, what we live and breathe every day. Do I let my mind swim around in discouraging, damaging thoughts? Or do I clean the bowl and put in pure water as often as I can?
After all, even the weak survive when the water’s pure.