Grace was almost three the first time she came to the lake. She looked at the water and didn’t want anything to do with it. She picked up some sand toys and played on the beach. After a while, Grace saw the older kids were having a great time in the water. First she got her toes wet; soon, she waded in. As her fear evaporated, she joined the older kids in the water.
Like Grace, most of us are cautious about trying something new. Watching Grace reminded me of an experience I had in launching a new initiative. I had to give up my reliance on what was comfortable in order to try something new. It meant doing things I had never done before. The initiative required putting myself out there in new ways, and there were no assurances or guarantees. I could stay on the beach and play in the sand, or I could venture out into the water.
As I was preparing to launch the initiative, two feelings forced their way into my consciousness. They had been swirling around inside of me trying to get my attention. It took a while for them to break through my protective shield of denial, distraction, and preoccupation. Slowly, I had to admit it: I felt alone, and I was scared.
I felt alone because I thought the new initiative was all up to me. Its success or failure was on my shoulders. What it asked of me was frightening. My self-protective instincts were on high alert, and I was afraid I would fail. Both feelings begged me to stay within the safety of my comfort zone and stick to what I knew. My emotions were doing the math – doubling the risk of failure and dividing the benefit of success in half.
Once I confronted these deeply personal emotions, I needed time to unpack them. I had to figure out what they were asking of me. As unwelcome as they were, being aware of them helped. Knowing what I was feeling created the possibility of doing a reality check. Was I really alone? How realistic was my fear? As long as those feelings remained unconscious, I had no way to deal with them. They were a silent yet powerful undertow keeping me from acting. Once they became conscious, I could confront them.
As I reflected on my feelings of being alone and afraid, I thought of Peter in the boat with the other disciples. They see a figure walking toward them on the water, and they think it’s a ghost. (Matt 14: 22-33) Jesus reassures them: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
Peter calls back: “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus responds: “Come.” Unlike Grace or me, Peter immediately leaps out of the boat to go to Jesus. He’s on top of the water before he realizes what he’s done.
As a fisherman, Peter always had the good sense to stay in the boat. Confronted by the power of the wind and the fierceness of the waves, he panics. He loses his focus on Jesus, and he starts to sink. Peter cries out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus hauls him out of the water, helps him into the boat, and chides him: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
So there I was. On the verge of leaving the boat of my comfort zone, I was stuck. My imagination conjured up the wind and the waves, and I was focused on saving my skin. It took me a while to grasp the redemptive aspect of Peter’s experience. Whether he trusted enough to walk on the water or sank in fear, Jesus was with him. Jesus’ presence assured they would end up safely in the boat. Peter was soaking wet, but he was safe. Jesus was there to save him no matter what happened. Peter’s reality check revealed that his faith was wanting, but his survival was never in doubt.
Jesus’ words to him were also meant for me – and for all of us. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” was also a reality check for me. I was feeling alone because I was focused on myself. The wind and waves I imagined had caused me to lose sight of Christ’s presence. I was not alone!
My life was no more at risk than Peter’s was. The only thing at risk was my ego – the view of myself that I work so hard to polish and project. What was at risk was my ego-centered desire to appear smart, stay in control, and be perceived successful. I was stuck in the boat because I was afraid of looking stupid, not knowing what to do, and failing miserably.
Whenever we find ourselves feeling alone and afraid, it’s time for a reality check of our faith. Sometimes those feelings keep us stuck in the boat. Other times, strong wind and fierce waves make us wish we’d never ventured out. In either case, our need to grow in faith is revealed. Are we alone, or have we lost sight of Christ calling us to come to him? Are we afraid because our ego is at risk – preventing us from trusting that “nothing can separate us from the love of God”? (Romans 8: 31) Reality checks – like Peter’s and mine – reveal our need to grow in faith.
As a little child, Grace may be showing us the way to grow in faith. Start with the sand toys . . . test the water with your toes . . . slowly wade in. Faith grows slowly over the entire lifetime of our spiritual journey. It grows by keeping our focus on Christ’s presence and remembering that we’re not alone. It grows by responding to his call to come to him no matter what risk we face in trying to reach him. Whenever we experience a reality check of our faith, we need to deepen our trust in Jesus’ reassuring words: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
Questions to Ponder
Here are some questions to encourage you to reflect on the reality check of faith.
– When have you been faced with the need to leave your comfort zone in order to try something new?
o What feelings did you experience?
o How did you respond to them?
– What reality checks of faith have you experienced?
o How did you respond?
o What did you learn from the experience?
-What insights about growing in faith can you learn from: