Photo credit: Mark Ryman
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
~ Deuteronomy 31:8
When my daughter was around a year, every time we drove to my sister’s house she cried the entire ride. To get to Kathleen’s house, we had to navigate back roads with twists and turns, along with a few hills that made the pits of our stomachs flip and flop.
As she got a little older, Ellie started to like the twists and turns and stomach flip-flips. Ellie even started lifting her hands in the air like she was riding a roller coaster.
Ellie also started to like swinging on the playset, flying as high as she could go. I told her once that if I pushed her any higher, she would soar right over the top of the playset. She yelled, “That sounds fun!”
More recently, though, Ellie’s old tendencies resurfaced. When we drive to my sister’s house, Ellie cries because the hills make her stomach hurt. Ellie still likes to swing, but not too high. She gets scared.
Ellie decided her hills and swinging adventures were too much to handle. I’m not sure why Ellie went from enjoying the adventure to being afraid, but it’s a very familiar cycle for me in my walk with the Lord.
It takes me a long time to take that first step of faith when it involves something outside of my normal set of boundaries, but I do like the newness of adventure that comes – for a little bit.
Inevitably, my sense of adventure wanes. I get burned out, disillusioned, or completely beat down.
Sometimes these feelings surface when I focus too much on the task before me, problems I’m facing, or caring about what other people think of me.
This happened to Peter when he took his eyes off of Jesus. When Peter asked Jesus to step out of the boat and walk on water, Peter was fine as long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus. But as soon as Peter focused on what he was doing instead of Jesus – or the calling instead of the Caller – Peter sank.
Peter started doubting the very One who called him out.
When Jesus first appeared walking on water up to the disciples who were in a boat, Jesus told them to take courage and not be afraid.
Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
It’s interesting that the disciples who remained in the boat cried out in fear when Jesus appeared. It was only Peter who faced that fear and stepped out of the boat and onto the water.
And Peter felt brave and thought that was exhilarating – at first. I wonder how long Peter walked on water before the fear resurfaced?
I imagine it wasn’t long. He felt the overwhelming intensity of the wind and the waves lapping at his feet. He realized how many unknowns, instabilities, and uncertainties surrounded him. I bet he regretted asking Jesus to call him out, wishing he had never left the relative safety of the boat surrounded by the other disciples.
Outside of the confines of the boat, Peter felt alone.
Yet before Peter was the One who calms the wind and the waves. The very One who existed before all things and who holds together all of creation (Colossians 1:17).
Behind Peter – albeit still in the boat – were Peter’s friends and support system who walked with Jesus and witnessed Jesus perform countless miracles.
Despite his feelings, Peter really wasn’t facing the storm alone.
When I step out in faith, even if it’s an awkward, clumsy step, it usually feels good – for a bit. Then the wind blows and the waves crash and I start feeling alone and doubting. When this happens, I’m double-minded and unstable in my actions, operating from a place of irrational fear (James 1:8).
I begin to doubt God’s call on my life and His goodness. I wonder if He really is the One before me or if I made up a caricature of God in my head.
I doubt my support system. I focus on the negatives instead of the positives, twisting words of family and friends into something they never meant.
I want to jump back into the boat and I regret ever leaving its confines of relative safety in the first place. More literally, I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.
But really, what is safety? Deuteronomy 31:8 promises, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Maybe the safest place to be is in the eye of the storm. As hurricane winds strengthen, they circle and create a protective barrier where the eye of the storm is located. The eye often has clear skies and only light winds.
It’s just so easy to get distracted or engrossed by the encircling chaos.
I start acquiring the chaos as my own by taking on its anxious thoughts and feeling its lethal nature in the pit of my stomach.
What if the splitting headaches and the time spent hurling over a toilet aren’t caused by being abandoned by God, but just feeling that way? Maybe it’s not that I made up a caricature of God in my head, maybe the mirage is the chaos.
Yesterday, my daughter wanted to swing again. Her stomach got a little queasy at first, but then she requested to swing “really high and really fast.” And you know what? – Ellie loved me pushing her as high as she could fly.
As she soared with the sky before her and her mom behind her, Ellie began to sing, “I feel the wind, I want to touch the trees, I want to reach the sky.”
Ellie wasn’t alone and neither am I. Whether I love flying high and fast or soaring makes me queasy, I can trust God is before me and behind me.