We all know the feeling. We’re doing great spiritually, we’ve got our focus on Jesus and then boom – we fall down. We go from cloud nine to sinking in the waters of self-criticism, overcome by the feeling that we’re not good enough.
It’s all too easy to fluctuate between spiritual highs and lows, between the feeling that we’ve got it together and the feeling that we will never get out of our bad habits. When I’m feeling this way, I find encouragement by remembering that the saints wrestled with this, too. Even the Apostles, Jesus’ closest friends, struggled with keeping their focus on Him. Saint Peter had an especially close relationship with Jesus, but even he denied the Lord. Three times!
Rather than focus on that, I’d like to reflect on another event in the life of Saint Peter: when he walked on water.
Most of us remember that Jesus walked on water (He’s God, after all!) but do we remember that Saint Peter did, too?
Matthew 14:22-33 tells us that, while the disciples were sailing one night, their boat was being rocked by the wind and the waves. Suddenly, they see Jesus walking towards them on the water and they’re afraid. Saint Peter says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He gets out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus, but is distracted by the wind, so he gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out, “Lord, save me!” so Jesus pulls him up and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The story ends as Jesus and Saint Peter get back into the boat and the wind stops.
This story challenges us to do three things:
1. Keep our eyes on Jesus
Saint Peter walked on water when he kept his focus on Christ. He only sinks when he begins to worry about the wind and the waves. If we pay more attention to the struggles we have with sin, or the stresses that we have in our lives, than we do to Christ Himself, we’re going to get tripped up.
We’re going to sink.
Saint Porphyrios (check out the book on his life and teachings, “Wounded by Love”) taught that instead of fighting against our passions directly, we should run towards Christ. He said that if we devote ourselves to loving Christ more and more by attending services, reading Scripture, and living the life of the Church, gradually the temptations will lose their strength over us. We can’t empty a room of its darkness by fighting the darkness; instead, we need to let in some light. In the same way, we can’t empty our hearts of darkness by fighting it head on; instead, we need to turn to Christ.
There’s even an episode of “Be the Bee” on Saint Porphyrios’s advice.
Saint Peter sank because he tried to battle the waves and the wind instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus. Similarly, if we take our eyes off of Him to battle sin (or stress, anxiety, or whatever else is going on in our lives) alone, we will lose: each and every time.
And once we have our eyes on Christ, the next step is to trust in Him.
2. Let go of control
Another reason Saint Peter began to sink was that he tried to control his situation. When he realized he couldn’t, he began to panic. On a daily basis, it’s easy to get stressed and anxious about everything we have to do. But this anxiety often results from our desire to do everything ourselves.
We, like Saint Peter, need to cultivate a faith in Jesus instead of a faith in ourselves.
Jesus told Saint Peter that he sank because of his little faith. Instead of having faith in Jesus, he tried to rely on his own strength. He forgot that, though it is impossible for a person to walk on water, Christ reminds us that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Having faith in Jesus means trusting Him to guide and support me. If I am anxious and stressed out, or if I am feeling that I just don’t know how I’ll get everything done, it’s often because I am relying on my own strength. Yet, living out my faith in Jesus means letting go of control and asking Him to be the strength I need.
I have to let go of my need to be right and of having my way, and instead learn to accept God’s will in my life, for today. Only then can I ask for the help I need.
3. Call out for help
Once Saint Peter turned his eyes away from Jesus, tried to control his situation, and began to sink, he realized he needed Christ to save him. He went from doing the impossible one moment, to sinking in wave-tossed waters the next. But, then he stopped trying to handle the situation on his own and said, “Lord, save me!”
As easy as that, he was back in the boat and the wind and waves were gone.
Saint Peter’s words marked his decision to rely on Christ. Self-reliance only gets us so far. Realizing that only Jesus can get us out of the waves and calm the wind means learning to ask for help. In the moment of our temptation to sin, or in the moment of our overwhelming worry or stress, we can stop and ask God for help.
Whether we’re battling a habitual sin or bad habit, dealing with stress and anxiety, or trying to handle a difficult work or family situation, finding a solution might feel impossible. It can seem like only a fantasy to imagine that there could be an end to whatever we are encountering right now.
Our situation might feel as impossible as walking on water.
But with Jesus, we have a solution. Today, we can decide to focus on Him, to stop trying to be in control and to call out to Him for help. Jesus is personally calling each of us, like Saint Peter, to follow Him in the midst of our difficulties.
Will we balk at the challenge and sink? Or will we, like Saint Peter, learn to walk on water?