If you know the story of Peter walking on the water, you have a capsule full of insights into reality.
The main points of the story are:
1. Jesus’ disciples are out at sea in the nighttime and a hostile wind is keeping their rowing from making progress.
2. Jesus walks out to them on the water and they react in fear as to a ghost.
3. Jesus calls for them not to fear as it is him and Peter calls back for him to prove it is him by commanding he walk on the water too. Jesus agrees and calls him out.
4. Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water, but looking at the waves, thinks again about the impossibility and sinks.
5. Peter yells to Jesus for help and Jesus helps him back into the boat affirming he had a little faith but to work on the doubting.
More than “Wow! They walked on water!” this story tells me about a progression:
Peter had been comfortable and confident as a career fisherman when Jesus came and challenged him to step out of his comfort zone, as Jesus put it, to become a “fisher of men.” It was a call to participate in the development of humanity. So, having stepped out of that boat, he knew he had to step out of this boat at sea in the night storm to continue growing as a person.
All the stories about Peter show him stepping out of another “boat” into the uncomfortable struggle of becoming the person to which God beckoned him. In doing so he gave himself to history as another example of how to grow.
While I do not want to force a metaphor as a formula for everything, metaphors help convey wisdom. This one warns us to confront ourselves with the question:
“Am I stunting my personal development,
or are we as a nation disintegrating,
by holding on to the convenient, the easy, the comfortable,
rather than accepting the challenge to stretch, to learn, to reform?”
Ask it of yourself. I am asking it of myself. Together we ask it of our community.
The “boats” we are challenged to step out of are countless: to get healthy, to build muscles, to learn a new job, to accept a different kind of person, to stop denying the pandemic, to discard a failed political regime … the list is endless. Some “boats” are more important than others and if we decide to grow up, we can expect to “get out of the boat” many times throughout life.
Everyone has enough faith to step out and take their first breath. But, most of us work harder at avoiding discomfort than stepping out. We know that we have to walk through struggle and pain if we want to build those muscles, advance in education, make a business succeed, birth and raise children, but often these steps become just boat-building. Name any aspect of life and you can easily point out the discomfort and difficulties required to live well, but will we step out for anything that is not self-serving, step out of the boat of, say, privilege, reputation, wealth … for the benefit of those outside our comfort zone?
Richard Rohr teaches wisdom of the ages expressed as life going through upward spirals from order, to disorder, to new order.
Even in bad circumstances we can be satisfied with at least some kind of equilibrium (order), i.e.: “Don’t rock the boat!” To grow we must consider stepping beyond our controlled struggle into the uncontrolled waves of newness (disorder). Out of control we feel the fear and threats of the unknown. Walking through such a crisis we discover a new order which we did not know was there.
If we do not choose to step out of the boat, sooner or later a circumstance, emergency, threat, or disaster, will probably help us decide. It is wise to be practiced in the disciplines of stepping out when the storms of life force changes. I see in Peter’s story 5 suggestions to practice.
Disciplines of Stepping Out of Boats
1. Admit that your current boat is not all there is to life. There is always more to grow into. Expect always to learn and grow. Practice holding lightly to things and systems. Discover the freedom of generosity, thankfulness, and humility.
Simple example: “My culture is not the ultimate and best in the world.“
2. When a newness presents itself, resist the fear that it is part of the storm rather than the inspiration calling through the storm. Practice recognizing mercy, hope, and possibility in the middle of trouble. Look for and encourage goodness more than bemoaning evil. Confront Evil with the confidence that Goodness is stronger.
Simple example: “These protesters are not the problem, but the call to fix it.”
3. Engage the newness and test it to see if it affirms and inspires you. Practice challenging your faith expecting it to grow rather than be destroyed. Question without fear and expect to learn.
Simple example: “I will listen to this person express the Truth even though they do not go to my church.”
4. Step out with hope and vision, rather than fear of failure. Focus on the inspiration that calls to you rather than on old order boundaries that object to the new order. Practice disciplines of word and actions that lift your attitude to the highest aspirations, rather than allowing your old order environment to keep you down.
Simple example: “This person is capable of great good even though they look threatening.”
5. Ask for and accept help when you falter. Rejoice that you have had the life-changing faith to break through the boundaries for your first steps in the new order. Practice the humility of being a beginner rather than trying to maintain the image of old order success.
Simple example: “It is okay to sound like a baby when learning a new language.”
So, I accept the admonition
“… be not conformed to this world [the boat you’re in], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you will prove the good, well-pleasing and perfect will of God.”Romans 12:2