They say it’s the first step that’s the hardest.
Fear often keeps us rooted in our place, afraid that any movement will make things worse.
Sometimes well-meaning people will remind us to have faith in God, who can do all things. Remember Peter who stepped out of the boat on faith, they might say.
Here’s the story, as Matthew’s gospel tells it.
Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” From Matthew 14
To tell you the truth, I’ve never thought Peter sounded too smart in that story. I mean, who in the world decides to walk on water just because Jesus could do it? (“If Jesus jumped off a cliff would you do it?” asks your mother.) Peter steps onto the water and then starts to sink. He seems surprised. Surprised! Hellooo, Peter—it’s water! What were you thinking? Jesus picks him up and helps him back to the boat. “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Why? He doubted because it’s water he was trying to walk on! Jesus seems awfully hard on Peter. I could be hard on Peter, too, but for a different reason. “”Oh, you of simple reasoning, why did you think you could walk on water?” But not, “Why did you doubt?” It just doesn’t seem fair.
The fear that Peter felt is probably not unfamiliar to you. Maybe you haven’t attempted to walk on water lately, but you know what fear feels like. You have felt the fear of having a sick child or a helpless parent. You have felt the fear of not knowing if you’d have enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month. You have felt the fear of wondering if your relationship would last. You have felt the fear of being in a new situation—a new school room this fall, for example. You have felt the fear of imminent loss. You have felt the fear of grave illness. We live in a universe that is very frightening at times.
Fear has a way of leading us in different directions. Some people smother their fears with alcohol or drugs. Some try to pretend they are not afraid. Some deny that there’s anything to be afraid of. Some say that having enough faith will handle it.
Like Peter, I think we tend to alternate between courage and fear. Between “I can get through this” and “this storm will never end until it takes me under.” Sometimes both in the same moment.
Jesus told Peter that he hadn’t had enough faith. In the usual sense, that seems an unrealistic and unfair accusation. It also seems less than helpful.
I wonder if what Jesus was saying to Peter was not that he should have had enough faith to stay on top of the water, but that he should have had enough faith to reach out to Jesus sooner.
We need help in this world. It comes from God; it comes from other people who care about us. We may not be able to walk on water, but we can stretch out a hand to give or receive help.
When we find ourselves standing on a surface that won’t support us, we have two choices. We can sink alone, or we can reach out. Neither one sounds appealing. But, truly, the choice is pretty clear.
Have faith, and grab a hand.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011