So here I am, in this place of no return. Looking back I can see the boat: familiar, safe, beckoning. There are faces I know within that boat, that’s the hard thing. People I’ve called friends. But they’re in the boat, and I’m….well, I’m outside the boat now. There’s history in that boat – my history. I’ve spent more years than I care to remember inside the comfortable boundaries of that boat and others like it.
I look around into thick darkness. It’s tangible. I am all too aware it seeks to smother me. In the darkness there is an eerie wind howling, menacing and ominous. ‘You are a fool’ it moans, with razor sharpness that cuts through to my naked soul. ‘Return to your place of safety and your natural realm or I will overcome you and carry you away into my gloom. You do not belong here.’
Around my feet the deep feels strange and unsteady. These feet have only ever known the certainty of firm, unyielding earth beneath them. From the day I learned to walk my feet have trusted the earth, adjusting their step to her terrain, finding their stability in her constancy and firmness. Daily life has been simply a matter of one step in front of the other. The waves now lapping at my ankles offer no such partnership. They are unpredictable and hostile. ‘Look at me,’ the sea hisses, ‘and remember the countless numbers of your kind for whom I have become an unwelcome graveyard. Fear me, for I cannot be trusted. I can swallow you and bury you where you will never be found!’
The muffled shouts of my companions, safe within the boat, are growing faint. With every trembling breath the outline of the boat grows smaller to me. I had fleetingly assumed one or two might venture to join me here. Did they hear Your invitation to come, or did the wind and the sea hide Your voice from them?
Or was it only me You called to step out of the boat and meet with You here?
I don’t know. I do know the loneliness out here is overwhelming. You have led me often into crowds, but never into such loneliness. I am keenly aware of my isolation and I do not like it; it lays bare my vulnerability like nothing I’ve ever experienced. In the crowd I know who I am. Out here I have no measure of myself.
My friends want me to be where they are….in the boat. Behind me, some of them cry out: ‘Come back with us, you will die out there!’ They would feel better if I returned to the boat. It would prove they were right not to leave it. Others remain silent, and though I can no longer see their faces, I feel their eyes burning into my back. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but still they stay in the boat.
You have me now between a rock and a very hard place. The safety of the boat behind me, the menacing darkness surrounding me, the unpredictable waters beneath me.
But ever before me: You!
I am afraid of this hard place You have summoned me into. It’s unchartered, fickle, precarious. But this one thing I know: I cannot go back. I can never go back. I am between earth and heaven now.
My anxiety is not hidden from You. I am aware of Your searching eyes, willing me onward. Yes, I falter and I stumble, but You gather me up in Your arms. ‘Have faith in Me! I am able to keep You even in this unfamiliar environment’. In Your voice I hear no hint of displeasure, only reassurance.
How many times will I, glancing uneasily down into dark, rumbling water, be momentarily overcome with fear? How many times will I lose my footing and begin to sink? ‘Countless!’ You reply. ‘And countless the times I will gather you up again!’
‘Come!’ You said.
One simple word. But in that word ten thousand times ten thousand promises. Promises of faithfulness, and life, and endless tomorrows together.
‘Come!’ You said.
So here I am in my foolishness; here I am with my faintheartedness and my smallness. Here I am, stripped of everything that I know to be safe and conventional.
Because I saw You, walking on the water!
And You desired me to be with You. And You make me to walk on water! This dark, moving water is deep, but not as deep as the Love that calls me onward.
How can I ever go back?
You are not in the boat; You are on the water.
You may assume this is about the disciple Peter bravely stepping over the sides of his Galilean fishing vessel and onto the waves to be with Jesus. But this is not about Peter. It’s about you. And me. And every faithful Christ follower navigating their way through twenty first century discipleship.
We have been taught to think of walking on water as one of Jesus most outstanding miracles. If we are honest, every one of us would like to walk on water, as Jesus did, and as Peter did briefly. But why? What purpose would it serve apart from making us feel elated for a short time?
The water was not Peter’s destination – Jesus was.
The truth is that walking on water, in a spiritual sense, is exactly where many of us following Jesus now find ourselves: outside the boat in a hostile, unpredictable environment, with nothing on which to safely lean except His abiding love. Many others are still contemplating the risks of abandoning all they have called ‘safe’ to follow Him on the wild and windy water.
All those in the boat had already responded to Christ’s call to ‘come’. They had followed, leaving their fishing nets and their lifestyles to become His disciples. But when Jesus gave the invitation to follow even further, out there in the wind, the sea and the darkness, only one was willing.
Sometimes we think we’ve given everything, when all we’ve really done is build a new and bigger safety net of security around ourselves.
Have you heard the invitation to come into deeper waters with Jesus? Can you trust Him to be your sustenance and possibly your only means of survival in a new and unknown place? Has safe, conventional, institutionalized religion become too small a boat to contain you or your God any longer? Are you ready to let go and go….anywhere as long as you can be with the One you love where He is? Even if no-one goes with you, even though it may cost you reputation and relationships or break your heart in other ways?
I invite you to read the first part of this post again, but this time it is you, not Peter, walking on water.
Do you identify? Take courage. He will not fail us.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.