At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
– Matthew 14:27-29
Today is my last day as a parish employee. I have been profoundly blessed to work for the Church I love, in the church I love, with people I love, for a community I love, for the past three years. My father always preached, Leave it better than you found it. I pray I’ve done so. I know I’m better than you found me.
Today I leave the boat for a walk upon the waves.
Over the past several weeks, as my departure became known, I’ve heard a number of variations on the following: It’s brave of you to step out in faith like this. It’s such a powerful witness of trust: going where the Lord leads you. I’m sure you are on the right path and I can’t wait to see where it leads!
I can relate completely to the last sentence: I’m sure I’m on the right path, and I also cannot wait to see where it leads. The other two require some clarification on my part:
- First, as the old saying goes, courage is not a lack of fear; it is acting in spite of it. I’m scared to leave the security of a steady paycheck and a boss and colleagues who support me daily in prayer and action. At times I’m petrified: sure I’ll sink like a stone as soon as I clear the gunwales and step onto the surf. I’m afraid to do this thing.
- Second, is it not the case that God gives you plentiful opportunities to practice those virtues you lack? When a parent prays for patience, what does he or she receive? An abundance of situations in which patience will be required, in order to develop and grow. Similarly, this tremendous opportunity to trust in the Lord starkly illuminates where I’m weakest.
Up to this point I’ve not been brave. I’ve not trusted. I’ve known for years—I’ve been told by so many people: friends and strangers and yes, even God, though I did not know His voice—to write. And I’ve pretended to do it, dabbled in it, been paid to string words together in a dozen different ways. But in every case, I have ignored the actual call. Several years ago, after telling his friends I was a writer, my son asked to see some my work and was disappointed in the direct-mail pieces, advertorials, and articles. He thought I was a “real writer.”
I was a real writer, doing good work. Just not my work. It’s time to answer the call. Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.
Here’s what that call has sounded like. First, a steady drumbeat in prayer—the impossible, impractical, uncomfortable inkling that God has something else for me to do, that He wants me to step out of my comfort zone, that He wants me to trust Him. Completely. With everything.
Next, I started receiving steady affirmation from unexpected places. Strangers taking time to stop me on the street to thank me for something I’d written in the parish bulletin or acquaintances emailing me to ask, “Have you ever considered writing for a living?” That sort of thing.
Finally, as I began to share and record my thinking, I saw more obvious signals. I’ll share three.
Last fall I got off early one afternoon and came home stressed: about work and home life, about whether I was supposed to answer this new calling, about the presidential election and the world, you name it. I took a long walk to settle my brain and prayed a rosary for peace of mind. Then I sat down to a late lunch. While I ate, I watched a PBS show called A Chef’s Life. The episode featured a folk rock band I was not familiar with called The Avett Brothers. I liked what I heard, so I pulled them up on the internet. They have numerous albums and scores of songs, and not knowing where to start, I clicked the first song sample that caught my eye. The brief sample included exactly these lyrics: “When nothing is owed or deserved or expected/And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected/If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected/Decide what to be and go be it.” I sat and listened and shook my head in disbelief, laughing and crying at the same time to feel God’s presence so close beside me.
Some weeks later I was sharing my discernment with a priest friend and reflecting on how hard it was to ask my bride to step out in faith with me, with a mortgage and kids at home. He shared with me a talk he had heard, in which the speaker suggested that in a married man’s life, he will reach a point at which he needs to say to his wife, “You’re going to have to trust me,” and if he’s been prayerful in his vocation, she will be able to reply, “I do trust you, because you are walking with the Lord.” I had not mentioned this conversation to Jodi when, a few days later, we were talking about me leaving steady employment for the uncertain world of freelance writing, and for the first time she spoke the words, “I trust you.” The hairs on my arms stood on end as I then relayed Father’s words to her. She said, “Well, you are walking with the Lord.”
And then at Easter I was reflecting on what, specifically, God might like me to convey in my writings, and instead of specific subject matter, what surfaced was two words: Joy and Wonder. (On the small dry-erase board near my bed, I wrote, “Gaudium et Tremendum,” because everything’s cooler in Latin.) The following weekend I made an unexpected trip to Michigan to see my parents and sister, and that Sunday (Divine Mercy, as it were: Jesus, I Trust in You), our hometown church had a guest priest. He said he had not been to that parish since 1974 (the year I was born), so he had written a homily he could preach at any parish, anywhere. He then spoke of our called to evangelize and make disciples, and said his first question to all of us was, Are we sharing God’s joy? After a few moments of reflection on the need for God’s joy to draw people to Christ and His Church, he asked another question: Are we sharing the wonder of being made in the image of God and adopted as His sons and daughters? By the time we reached the car after Mass, I was trembling, sparking, ready to laugh and weep again to have God so very near, using the priest to speak my words—His words—back to me.
On the way home from Mass, I shared these stories with my mother and sister. I told them I wished I could tell everyone that God is real, that He’s as close as our next breath, and that He knows and cares for each of us.
Turns out I can tell people.
Like the apostles in the boat, we struggle to recognize Him; we see the things He can do and are afraid. But He calls us to Him: Come.
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him.
– Matthew 14:29-31
I am trying to keep my eyes fixed on Christ and to not see the waves heaving beneath my feet. But I’m no longer afraid to get wet. I know He’s right there, beside me.