Walking our faith: Faith and trust and the deep blue sea (column)
I used to believe that life was a diving board. We walked along this straight and narrow course until we reached the end. The pool beneath us was Heaven. Cool, comforting, protected waters in which we would swim for eternity, held in the steady palm of God’s hand.
In fact, I liked that analogy so much, I used it in a novel.
This morning at 6 a.m., I realized I was wrong.
I amended my analogy. Life was the swimming pool. The diving board was adulthood.
When we become adults, we jump off the diving board into the pool of adulthood and swim. If we know how to swim, know how to create a successful life using our talents and skills, we will swim and life will be great. If we don’t know how to swim, surely there is a swim instructor who can give us lessons, we will overcome our fear of drowning, and all will be well.
At 6:15 a.m., I realized the flaw in this idea was my imagining that life was a protected body of water, a temperature controlled environment, predictable depths and no waves.
So I picked up my well-trained swimmer and plopped her into the ocean.
She was fine as long as the weather was sunny, she swam close to shore where the waters were clear enough to see the not-too-deep depths, and the gentle currents made her course easier.
Life was good. Faith is like this.
When we enter into a relationship with God, our first impression, perhaps lasting for years, is of floating in calm, warm waters. We know that we are loved, God’s presence is near and reassuring. We don’t have to trust God, because we take for granted His closeness each day.
Life is good, so we believe our faith is strong.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, I was tossed into the waves as soon as I could walk. I was a strong, competitive swimmer, and when tropical storms threatened far offshore, I would join my friends, body surfing in the churned up waters of the Atlantic.
But if you had dropped me into the deep blue Gulf Stream during that same storm, where the waves towered as high as a building and the current whipped you far from shore, all my swimming skills would have been exhausted and I would have drowned.
The other evening, my friend Paula and I were messaging back and forth about the challenge of trusting God in impossible circumstances.
She wrote a beautiful lengthy letter sharing her faith in God and one of the examples she included was the familiar story of Jesus walking on water. In the book of Matthew, the disciples of Jesus, men who have grown up by the sea, strong fishermen, have gone out in their boat when an overwhelming storm arises. They rightfully fear for their lives.
Suddenly, they see Jesus walking toward them over the waves. They are frightened, believing they are seeing a ghost.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
This morning, I realized that the ocean not only represents life, but also faith.
Reaching out for the hand of God will not happen once in my life. I will be called to rely on my faith, to trust God, not occasionally but constantly.
When I take my eyes off of Jesus, when I try to walk on water by my own efforts, I sink. But when I reach out for His hand, I must accept the challenge of trusting that I will rise.
Before I began writing this column, I imagined the deeper my faith, the easier my life would be. I’ve found the opposite to be true.
The seemingly endless cycle of hope and disappointment wears on my self-confidence and on my relationship with God. It also highlights a glaring hole in my walk of faith.
Every time I fail, I take it as a sign that I am unworthy of God’s love or that God could not be trusted with my dreams.
According to God’s Word, both of those conclusions are wrong. But in the midst of a sea of disappointment, that is all I can see.
If the analogy of walking on water is too fanciful to believe. Let me share one that is based in scientific fact.
If you are in the deepest part of the ocean you have two choices. You can become frightened by the fathomless depths below, panic, struggle and drown. Or you can relax, lay on your back and allow the buoyant salt water to gently carry you over the waves.
Either choice is one that has to be made continuously. Once I commit to floating and trusting that I will be carried, I will only remain afloat if I continue in that commitment moment by moment.
As I venture further from shore, into depths where God’s unimagined beauty is found, I discover that to get there and stay there is difficult.
My experience of God is richer than anything I imagined before. But I am challenged and forced to trust God or head for shore and the shallow relationship we had before.
That is the choice I face, every day. Will I accept Jesus’ invitation into the depths?
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