A dear friend of mine, a woman of great faith, has truly endured a “hard knock life.” When compared with most people, she’s had far more than her fair share of marital, parental, financial, physical, and psychological woes. Yet when living through her many challenges and difficulties, she’s learned to keep sight of the fact that Jesus is always with her- even during her darkest, most difficult days.
My friend speaks of faith in terms of her relationship with her dad, with whom she was very close. For instance, when he was teaching her to ride a bike, he would say: “Keep looking at me! Keep your eyes on me! If you look down, you’re going to wobble and fall!” And when he taught her to swim, he would open wide his arms and say: “Don’t be afraid and don’t look around- just swim to me!”
These fond memories remind my friend that faith involves keeping one’s eyes on Jesus, especially when one is anxious, afraid, or when the going gets rough. She explains that so often, when we find ourselves in trouble, we think we need to cry out to God and bring our distress to his attention. But in reality, Jesus is always there with us. We just need to be able to see him, with eyes of faith.
Perhaps this is a lesson we can take away from today’s gospel. As we heard, the disciples were sailing on the Sea of Galilee when they found themselves in the midst of a furious storm. Then all of a sudden Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. But they thought that Jesus was a ghost, and they became even more afraid. Jesus saw this, and he tried to calm their fears. “Take courage, it is I;” he said, “do not be afraid.”
Peter, however, still had his doubts. So he asked Jesus if he himself could walk on the water. And he found that he could- as long as he kept his eyes on the Lord. But as soon as he looked at the wind and the waves around him, he began to sink, and he cried out for help. Jesus caught him by the arm and said: “Where is your faith? Why did you doubt me?”
One significant thing about this story is that when Jesus first approached the disciples’ boat, he didn’t stop the wind and calm the storm right away. Instead, he told his friends to be courageous. If you think about it, this is how Jesus so often deals with us. He doesn’t always, nor does he often, bring about an immediate and happy resolution to our crises. Miracles do happen, but miracles, by definition, are pretty rare. Instead, Jesus comes to us and invites us to keep our eyes fixed on him, so that we can find the hope and the strength and the meaning we need to move beyond our anger and fear. As St. Augustine once wrote, “Those who keep faith in Jesus, can walk upon the waves of the storms of life.”
Consider the story of a young man named Rick. For months Rick had suffered from severe intestinal pain, and he eagerly looked forward to an operation he was sure would cure him. But it didn’t- at least at first- and he was filled with frustration and grief. When a priest friend came to visit him, Rick kept saying: “I can’t handle this! This is ridiculous!” So his friend gently stopped him and pointed out that what Rick was saying only served to fan the flames of his anger.
Then the priest invited him to try to find some meaning in his ordeal. In other words, what could this disappointment, this illness, and this pain mean for him? After reflecting for awhile, Rick said, “Maybe God is asking me to grow up through this. Maybe he’s saying: ‘Hey Rick, stop whining.’ And my family has really been there for me too. My mom’s been great. My sister’s really been helping me. Maybe I’ve taken them for granted.” This insight didn’t change Rick’s physical condition. However, by being able to look at his situation through the lens of his faith in Jesus, he was able to find meaning and gratitude, which in turn gave him the strength he needed to carry on. (1)
How God operates is so often a mystery to us. Why he does what he does, and why he allows certain things to happen- especially the bad things- can confuse us and challenge our faith. To help us understand God’s actions, a priest friend of mine gives a helpful example. He says, “When our car gets stuck in a snow bank, sometimes God sends a tow truck to pull us out, but sometimes he just sits down next to us at the side of the road, and cries with us.” He explains that God always acts in such a way that, at the end of the day, will make us more loving people. We also need to keep in mind that sometimes God tests us so that we can learn to depend on him more than we do. As God explained to St. Catherine of Siena, “I sometimes bring (my servants) to the brink, so that they will better see and know that I can and will provide for them.”
Rick Warren, in his best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, says that when we find ourselves in difficult situations, we shouldn’t say, “O Lord, why me?” Instead, we should ask, “O Lord, what do you want me to learn?” Which is excellent advice indeed! However, the possibility that God may be teaching us or testing us can be very far from our minds when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm and the waves are closing over us. At times like this, all we can do is echo the words of St. Peter: “Lord, save me!” And indeed, save us he does. To again quote our Lord’s words to St. Catherine of Siena: “I never fail my servants, so long as they put their trust in me.”
(1) story found in The Jesus Advantage by Paul J. Donoghue, Ave Maria Press, 2001
Photo Credit: Oneras, Elsie esq., and ToriaURU via CreativeCommons
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/nab/080711.shtml
3 Replies to “How to Walk on Water”
What a wonderful blog post. I quite agree with your opinion. If we are do any work with faith though we can able to success on that work. If we are wanna see Jesus though we must need faith eyes for seeing Jesus. Thanks dude 🙂
This reminds me of the somewhat popular belief that God was so harsh in the Old Testament until He brought in the New Covenant and the forgiveness that came with it. When I ask myself lately if He was really as harsh as those who seem bent on detracting Him I remind myself of two authority figures in an old movie called “Take The High Ground” starring Richard Widmark and Karl Malden, who worked together to train new recruits to go to war, not to become peace time soldiers on standby.
Widmark played the tough NCO and Malden portrayed the “nice” one. The very name of Widmark’s character was ominous; Thorne Ryan; and he was a constant thorn in their sides.
Throughout, the tough NCO demanded that the recruits develop their skills to be the best could and the “nice” one kept giving them breaks, rests, and other concessions. The recruits began by building resentments about the tough guy and liking the nice guy until they saw their military skills develop and realized which of their trainers were contributing the most toward them.
At the end of the movie, when Thorne Ryan puts them through a very demanding drill display to demonstrate what well trained military men could do and, as they perform with great precision, the viewer could see them enjoying how well they could perform. And, don’t forget that their performance levels would very soon mean a big difference to their very survival when they arrived at a war zone.
What about the nice guy teacher? Well, they sorta forgot him. If people like me, great. If they dislike me because I do my best to tell them what I believe to be what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear, well I like to think that I could live with that. But, what if I was a significant person in a period of their development, and they just forgot about me? Sounds pretty uncomfortable.
At this point I want to stress that I’m not making a claim that God can be described within the confines of finite human experience however, the concept of problem and challenge being two different words for the same thing can be seen in the tough military training and the spiritual. The golden calf described in Exodus 32 wasn’t likely to demand that the Children of Israel endure the 40 tough years of wilderness experience where tough lessons helped them shed the slave mentality which they’d brought with them out of Egypt but, it wouldn’t do them much good against the struggles they had to overcame before they were established in their new homes.
I ask myself (briefly) how often regulars to this ‘blog think of God and how often we think of the golden calf. I mostly froget that idol except when I need to remind myself of a bad example.
As for keeping my eyes on Christ; I think of my thirty year struggle with alcohol addiction. I tried many things, willpower, prayer therapies that sought only miracles, numerous science based therapies (that didn’t decrease my repect science but made me appreciate its limitations) and others. Somehow I never got to Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step groups that followed AA’s example. There were so many options that I just never got around to trying that one.
When I finally encountered God’s gift of the 12 Steps in my 50’s and heard their message that no human power could have relieved me but that “God could and would if He were sought” I found hope. I also heard that He expected me to do my share of the work which suited me just fine. When I completed my 3rd Step and got on my knees for the prayer to turn my will and my life over to God it was a joyous moment After several years of abstinence and a moderate state of serenity (that is still in the process of replacing the noisy confusion which I had used alcohol, and a few other substances and behaviours, to numb out) I began asking why the fellowships are so reluctant to mention God’s part for fear of scaring people away. I have said that, while I don’t know for sure what I would have done in my twenties had I heard that AA teaches us to turn to God, I do know that I so yearned for the relationship with Him that I’d had and seemed to have lost, that I almost certainly would have beat a path to the nearest meeting.
As for my current program, I continue to reduce the effects of an incurable, but manageable disease, with God’s help and I also thank you for clarifying my need to keep my eye on Him. As my gaze and the health of my spiritual state shift around I now see that; as long as I keep my focus on God I keep my stability and level but, when I turn away from Him, I feel myself sinking.
So, my three years in the Canadian Infantry and the time as a young child in church help bring these lessons together to show that the best alternative has always been to keep my faith and focus on God and accept His perfect and challenging lessons. The recruits in the movie were training for physical survival but, we cannot afford to lose sight of eternal and spiritual survival.
@Steve: Thanks, dude!
@Peter- God bless you for your faith, your testimony, and your perseverence.
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