The night is dark and cold. The wind, fierce as a wild beast, whips around us. The other guys are paddling as best they can; and Lord knows they are no stranger to life asea or inclement weather. But any man’s effort would be hard-pressed to look like much of anything next to what this wind can do. Our tiny boat is bucking so hard, it’s a miracle their oars find the water at all.
One of the others (Thomas, I think — hard to tell. Like I said: it’s dark) nudges me. I grunt, my sleepy, uncomfortable version of “Yes, may I help you?” only with extra crankiness. I think he’s pointing. I can’t really make out his hand, but I can make out what I imagine he’s pointing at.
Because that thing is glowing with a light of its own.
“It’s a ghost!” I hear one man cry hoarsely, the fear unmistakable in his voice. The others are redoubling their efforts at the paddles, and the air becomes filled with the splashes of their labors and the wonderfully colorful curses emanating from their mouths.
The rest of us are bustling with our own work. I don’t know exactly what the others are doing, but I know what I’m about. And after a few moments of frantic groping in the blackness, I find what I’m looking for: a gnarled, weighty branch we had gathered for firewood earlier in the day.
It would serve as a passable bludgeon, you know, provided that thing (which is gaining on us by the second; damn those shiftless sacks at the oars!) has a body.
Nearer and nearer it draws, moving impossibly fast. I look forward, my eyes straining, but finally being able to pick out the smudgiest of details in the gradually lightening dawn. The shore is within view (or is that just my imagination?), but I don’t see that there’s any way we’ll make it in time.
I’m pondering my chances of diving in the boiling waves and making for land, when I get a nasty shock. The men have stopped paddling. Yes, I can barely see, but the change is obvious. They’re not even looking ahead anymore; they’re facing the opposite direction. Strangely, in the dim glow that whatever-that-thing-is is emanating, I can see that they don’t appear to be afraid — not exactly.
“Jesus?” It’s not I that speak; at least, I don’t think it is. But at that moment, I really couldn’t care less who spoke. Because it’s not a ghost on the water. It’s Jesus. And, all of a sudden, I forget all about the wind and the waves, and how tired and hungry and cranky I am. I am transfixed.
“Everything is all right,” he says. “Yes, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
It’s crazy. This is crazy. People don’t just walk on water — everybody knows that. And so, I want to be afraid. Actually, I want to be terrified. But there’s something about this impossible man’s simple words. Something calming, and oddly powerful.
They echo in my head. “Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid.
I love that story. As I told you last week, I recently decided to quit my job. In talking it over with one of my friends, he mentioned the passage I’ve been riffing on above, and I immediately rejected it.
“That’s a little much,” I thought. “I’m not one of the disciples.”
Which is a stupid thing to think, of course, because yes, I am. No, not one of the disciples, but I am a disciple of Jesus — at least, I try to be worthy of such a name.
And, I’d be lying if I said this passage hasn’t served as some encouragement over the past few weeks. There is at least one parallel I can’t deny: In the real text of the story, the disciples are described as “terrified” when they first see Jesus. And I have certainly been terrified about this decision.
I’m generally not an impulsive person, so to up and quit a decent job because “my heart tells me to” is pretty out of character for me. Plus, it took me a long time to get this job in the first place, and I hated being unemployed.
My epiphany came, oddly enough, when I was watering our vegetable garden about a month ago. I believe there are specific things — good things, great things, even — that God made us for and put us on the earth to do. And, that day in the vegetable garden, I realized that I wasn’t doing them. I wasn’t checking any of them off that list, because I was afraid.
I was afraid of a lot of things. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of not providing for my family. I was afraid of being thought a fool. Maybe more than anything else, I was afraid of presuming too much on God.
And yet, when I thought of eternity, of how, when it’s all said and done, my works will be measured and anything that wasn’t done for the good of his kingdom will be burned away, those fears seemed a whole lot smaller. In fact, a greater fear took their place — a good fear. I became afraid that I was wasting my time, wasting the precious days God had given me on things I don’t really believe in. And that seemed to me to be a far greater sin than being a foolish 25-year-old (which, as my wife will assure you, I most definitely am).
Did I make the right decision? I don’t know yet. But I’m pretty sure I made it for the right reasons, and I think, sometimes, that’s what really matters.