On Not Getting out of the Boat

fishing-1245979_1920 Photo from Pixabay

(See Mark 4 and 6)

There is a phrase which I see versions of bandied about a lot in Christian circles, perhaps after the title of a John Ortberg book (which admittedly I’ve not read), “If you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat!” I see people term themselves “water walkers” and so forth. Where this is about growing courage and faith, that’s great, but it can also be an exercise in completely missing the point.

Does anyone ever say, we need to get out of the boat in order to sink? Which Peter also did, and which is much more character-forming, frankly. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to get out of the boat, nor did he berate the other disciples for not doing likewise.

For one thing, being in the right boat in the first place might be an idea. A great many churched Christians today have very little idea what boat they are in, if they have even the heart to have got on board, let alone the courage to climb out of it. A lot of us are still on the shore, and not even looking in Jesus’ direction. It’s not all our fault, because surprisingly, we aren’t always taught very much about the realities of discipleship.

Most people get shoved out of the boat at some point, and a lot of us are treading water or trying to climb back in. Life is hard enough without pressurising ourselves into leaping into places where only miracles can save us. Peter’s greatest example to us may be, not that he was not afraid to move out of his comfort zone, but that he was not afraid of failure. I don’t think, once he climbed back on board, that he was standing there, dripping wet, crying and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t keep the miracle afloat for long, I think he was ecstatic that he’d walked on water! He had to embrace the divinity of the miraculous and the humanity of inevitable failure within moments of each other. Perhaps this gave him more insight into the nature of his Messiah. It was not about an achievement, but about learning.

We do all need to try to walk on water perhaps, but only because we shan’t find out who we are or what really matters to us until we fail, and sink, and reach out to grab whatever means the most to us. For Peter, it was an experience, not only of a brief victory, but of seeing his own weakness right before his very eyes and needing to reach out to Jesus. Failure is an immensely powerful teacher (I should know) and the spiritual road we travel as followers of Jesus, if we are truly committed, is strewn with it.

When Jesus was in the boat, earlier, he slept. “If you want a nice rest, climb into the stern” doesn’t have quite the same dynamic pocket devotional/house group session ring to it. But actually, didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are weary or burdened, and I will give you rest”? Can’t we know ourselves well enough to realise that there are seasons in our lives and faith journeys where what we need to do is not leap into action, but snuggle down there into the pile of cushions/coats and possibly torn fishing nets, and still be disciples? Is sleeping through the storm as courageous and miraculous an act as leaping over the side? Or am I a woman overboard?

Foundations: On Not Getting a Grip

Dear Readers,

One thing Lakelight is likely to be, is counter-cultural. The pieces we share on the blog will begin by clearing away some of the rubble and weeds that need to go before we can start to build the foundations of anything meaningful. We shall be talking as much for a while about how NOT to do things, as how to do them. Please understand that we are not being negative, that rather, space is being created for something new.

 

On Not Getting a Grip

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“Get a grip, Keren!” I found myself saying yesterday. I was suffering from anxiety and it was giving me extra physical symptoms on top of my already difficult chronic illness. I had to laugh at myself, because I’ve discovered over the years that getting any kind of grip, whether on myself, life or God, is not only impossible, but also the wrong way of going about things.

If anything, what I need to do when I feel like that is not grip tighter, but let go! We can be, spiritually, emotionally and physically, a lot like the proverbial monkey who is holding on so tightly to the peanuts in the jar, that she cannot pull her arm out. The more stubbornly we hold on, insisting that all the goodies are ours, or with an infantile faith in our certainty or entitlement, the more time we will be sat on the branch, hand stuck in jar, and unable to enjoy what’s been given to us.

What we need to do is slowly release our grip, let most of the peanuts go, and pull our hand out to enjoy one or two at a time. It’s the same with God, whom we can only grasp or comprehend in the tiniest doses, and it’s the same with the troubles we live with day by day.

Life is very rarely something we can catch by the scruff of the neck and lift up, shaking it till all the good stuff falls at our feet. It’s far more likely to be holding us! Letting go of our illusions of control, of knowing, of thinking we deserve anything, this is actually one definition of faith.

It is in our unknowing, our releasing the pressure on ourselves to perform, our understanding that we aren’t ever going to know it all, do it all, be it all, have it all, that is where our faith grows and matures. It is in scarcity and lack that we come to have an abundance of what really matters, and as usual, the Kingdom of Heaven turns a lot of what we think we know on its head.

So, what did I do yesterday to release the anxiety? I laughed at myself, I breathed long and deep, I had a bit of a cry and then prayed. All of these are good ways of letting go. Letting me go, letting God in; letting myself become smaller, him greater. Me decreasing, him increasing. It didn’t change the circumstances, there were still things to be anxious about, and today is hard too. I’ll be honest (because what’s the point of being anything else?) as I’m writing this there is a part of me that wants to throttle my screaming neighbours. But this too, I choose to let go. Deep breaths.

 

I cannot get a grip

On you Lord, or your ways

My hands clenching around

Branches of knowledge

Just slide down

Covered in oil and honey.

Exhausted, at the bottom

I finally learn

We do not arrive anywhere worth knowing

By climbing, or making fists.

 

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017