This is a piece that I wrote when my youngest daughter was 6 days old. I can't believe it's been that long.
There’s this beautiful story in the gospel of Matthew, and though I’ve heard it dozens, probably hundreds of times, it’s never really resonated with me until I had children.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.”
For years, I’ve read this story and taken it as a lesson on faith. Peter had little faith, doubted Jesus, and so he started sinking. The metaphor is simple: don’t doubt Jesus, have faith, and life will go well.
Is this what Matthew was intending?
But maybe he was getting at something deeper.
Maybe, rather than highlighting our doubt, which we are all acutely and desperately aware of, what if he were trying to subtly highlight something much more profound?
Something that we all too often forget that would, if we would keep it ever in our minds, would change our lives?
Perhaps the point of the story isn’t “trust me.” Maybe it’s something deeper. Maybe it’s more soul-level.
“I am always here. I’m not going anywhere.”
As I write this, Hattie (my youngest of three daughters) is 6 days old. I’m on a two week break from work, so my life right now is pretty much some combination of getting the oldest ready for school, taking her, picking her up, trying not to ignore my middle child, and sneaking in little naps whenever I can. I’m more tired than I can ever remember being (though I’m not complaining. I’m not the one nursing a baby every two hours. My wife gets a million mom points for that one.)
In the midst of screaming fits, and changing diapers through bleary eyes at 2AM, at some point you give in. Principles be damned, you drag your baby into bed with you, though you swore you’d never be a family who co-sleeps. You place your swaddled burrito of a baby in between you and try not to roll over and crush her, all while drifting in and out of sleep. You’re never really sure if you’re asleep or awake, but at that point, anything is better than not sleeping.
Last night was one of those nights. Rachel would nurse Hattie, put her down, and she’d just cry. Like the inconsolable, “why in the name of God have you left me in this stupid bassinet thing” crying. The “are you ever coming back?” type of crying. So I did what any dad would do who just wanted a few minutes of sleep.
I got up, got her out of her bed, and laid her on my chest.
And something profound happened, that taught me an awful lot about the nearness of our God, and reminded me of that story in the gospel of Matthew.
Hattie calmed down, and started drifting to sleep, but every twenty minutes or so, would roll her head over, and start crying, or more accurately, hyperventilating. It was only when I would lock eyes with her and assure her that I was there, that she her heaving would subside, her breathing would return to normal, and her little body would stop trembling.
All it took was the reassurance that I was there.
It got me thinking about Peter.
The moment that Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. The moment he forgot that Jesus was standing right there with him, that his outstretched hands were beckoning Peter into a deeper faith, one that trusts in the face of the brutality of life, only then did he begin to flounder.
I think that could be what Matthew is getting at here.
I’m not a scholar, or a student of the scriptures by any means. I’ve never been to seminary, or taken any real bible classes. But I know what I read. I know that this story speaks to me on a level that it never did before. I know that for me, that moment in the middle of the night with Hattie heaving on my chest taught me something.
No matter what, He is there.
No matter what I’m going through. No matter how badly life is crumbling. No matter how many things are going wrong, He is there. He has always been there, and He will always be there. But how quickly do we forget this?
How quickly, when life is rough, do we say things like “God where are you?” or “God, you feel far away,” or “Why have you left me?” I know the pain in these cries. I know the urgency of needing him. And I also know that, though he does at times hide himself for a period, he is never gone. He is never far off.
I think that too often we are looking for him in huge things. We are looking for a sign. Something that reassures us that he’s still there. But maybe if we would quiet ourselves long enough to stop and listen, we could hear his quiet voice whispering over us, “Here I am.” We could feel his breath as we heave and lurch and weep, and the rhythm of our sobbing begins to match up with his reassuring words, “Here I am.”
There is a beautiful story in the book of 1 Kings that I keep coming back to. In it, the prophet Elijah is told by God to go stand on a mountain before the Lord. As he’s standing there, the Lord is passing by, and a violent wind was blowing, breaking pieces off of the mountain, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after that, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
…And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here Elijah?”
May we quiet ourselves enough to hear the gentle whisper.