Catch me if you can!
My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.” While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.
Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.
I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me.
I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.”
What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.
In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust.
When the disciples find themselves out in their boat caught in a treacherous storm, they see Jesus coming out to them, walking on the water. As if this isn’t scary enough, Peter stretches his fear and faith a little further. Peter calls out to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, ask me to come to you.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So, Peter swings his feet over the side of the boat, carefully setting his feet down on something that should have engulfed him, and miraculously, stands up. Then Peter begins to take tentative steps toward Jesus. He looks forward. Although I have no way of knowing, I picture Jesus keeping Peter’s gaze with an expression of encouragement as if to say, “Keep walking!”
Peter showed incredible faith in following Jesus out onto the water. No one else did. But once he was out there, things started to look a little scary. This was unknown territory. Fear began to trump faith. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know this from the story—Peter lost his focus. He took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the storm around him. He stopped looking forward and started looking down. Instead of concentrating on the encouraging eyes of his Savior, he focused on the deep dark hole beneath his feet. And then, Peter began to sink.
He began to sink when his faith shifted from the firmness of Jesus’ Word to the instability of his circumstance. And when he did, Jesus allowed him to sink… maybe slowly enough for him to cry out, “Lord, save me!” before being swallowed up by the water. Perhaps this was Jesus’ way of offering Peter grace.
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – (Matthew 14:31)
That place of uncertainly, that desolate, dark place where we begin to question God is where He gets our attention. It is the place where we learn to cry out to God. It’s the place where we learn to trust Him. And because He is the very picture of grace, perhaps he lets us sink a little slower than we should, a little easier than we could, and then, when we call, he reaches out his hand just in time to pull us up to the surface. His hand is there, at the ready, pulling us up and drawing us back to him.
Sure, Peter’s faith may have faltered, but it didn’t change the fact that Jesus was always within reach. He gracefully allowed Peter to learn and grow, and was right there to lift him back to the surface. When we keep focused on God rather than on our circumstance, and when we cry out to him for help, He is always there.
Where is Jesus calling you to jump? Will you let fear win the day? Or will you step out of the boat and walk toward Him, knowing he is watching you, encouraging you, and ready to catch you if you cry out to him?
Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. – Henry David Thoreau