“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. (Mt 14:26-29).
This is one of my favorite Gospel stories. Yes, Peter quickly started to sink, but for that brief moment…
Life is a struggle. Challenges, fears, trials, and conflicts pound at us like turbulent waves. We may be tempted to be paralyzed by our indecisiveness and begin to sink because of the weight of the pounding. Yet, when we trust and keep our eyes on Jesus, who is present in the midst of our storms, we will overcome.
In many a top ten list of fears, I would guarantee that speaking in public consistently makes the top three. This is an area I have struggled with on and off again over the years. One incident happened about nine years ago as I had the opportunity to share my first reflection during my acolyte year of formation for the permanent diaconate. I must have prepared for three to five hours, writing and rewriting well into the wee hours of the morning the night before. Just before the morning liturgy, our director of formation informed me that there had been a last-minute change of plans and we were going to have different readings than I had prepared for. He offered to give the reflection in my place, as well as gave me the option to continue and incorporate what I had planned into the new readings.
I chose to remain on course and offer the reflection. As we processed in, I immediately regretted my choice. The winds and waves of anxiety started to batter me and continued their assault as I came up to read the Gospel. As I came to the end of the reading, a quiet peace settled over me. I then began to preach extemporaneously, ignoring my notes. There was an unexplainable feeling of joy that welled up in me, and like Peter, for that brief moment, it was as if, I too was walking on water. Halfway through the reflection though, my mind directed me back to my prepared notes, and I lost the connection that I had just experienced. I sputtered a bit to the end but finished free of any major catastrophe.
After the service ended, I remained in my seat quietly for a second to catch my breath. My classmates Dennis, Hank, and Pete, who all knew how nervous I was going into this, swarmed around me like I had just touched home plate after a walk-off home run. I can still feel Pete’s bear hug.
JoAnn had appendicitis during her first-grade year of school. She missed a lot of her reading lessons but worse became very self-conscious from that time forward about reading aloud. During our husband/wife retreats each year, wives were given the opportunity to read during the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass. JoAnn did not feel comfortable nor did she want to do so but accepted the invitation. We prepared, she practiced ahead of time, and then she prayed to the Holy Spirit just as she approached the ambo. JoAnn felt very nervous but as she began to read, she felt this deep sense of peace fill her whole body. She was no longer fighting back nerves but tears of joy at God’s presence.
There will be times when Jesus invites us to come out of the boat and step onto the water, he will call us to move out of our comfort zone. May we trust him and step out as Peter did. This will be a risk, and yes, there will be times that we will sink, just as Peter had done. But even though he sank, he immediately remembered to call out and Jesus immediately reached for Peter and pulled him up. Jesus was there for Peter, he has been there for JoAnn and me, and he will be there for you.
There may be something that you have been feeling led or encouraged to attempt, to start, to do, yet the waves of doubt, anxiety, and fear have been rocking the stability of your boat. “Be not afraid! Come.” Step out of the boat, take the risk, keep your eyes on Jesus, and walk on the water!
Photo: JoAnn and I during our formation period in the permanent diaconate program.