Let me tell you about falling.
Two things you need to know about me to start this story: until this summer, I had a borderline-phobia of boats; and like most of the sane population, I hate spiders a lot.
A few weeks ago, I went kayaking for only the second time in my life with my boyfriend and his family on a visit to Georgia. The first time we kayaked on a trip earlier in the summer, I just concentrated on being on a boat without panicking (the degree to which I failed my 4-H canoeing lessons really scarred me, y’all). But this trip, I felt much more calm and confident - Kayaking is fun! Who knew! We should do this all the time! - until we filed under a fateful tree limb.
When I went to brush the branch out of my face with my paddle, two blood-red spiders the size of my palm (probably) came skittering through the leaves towards my face. Obviously, I completely forgot I was in a boat whose buoyancy depended on me sitting still and making no sudden movements. I ducked HARD to the left, so hard that it didn’t take much – just Grant sweetly reaching to catch me – to flip the entire double kayak over. Yes, with him in it, which honestly is some sad (hilarious?) kind of impressive.
Flipping your kayak feels a lot like failing. I mean, the whole point of being in a boat is that it keeps you out of the water. Sort of defeats the purpose if you fall out – which, as it turns out, is easy to do if you forget you’re in one because there are spiders coming towards you.
Thankfully, falling is not just a me problem. Spiders are not the same as storms – in fact, what Peter was distracted by when he walked towards Jesus on the water was probably a good bit scarier. But just as I was reassured by Grant and his family kindly sharing their own stories of falling out of boats with me – confirming that this was a fairly normal occurrence that happens to us all – I was reassured as I read through the familiar story in Matthew 14.
The lesson in the story of Peter walking to Jesus on the water has always been clear-cut and simple to me: take your eyes off what or where your purpose is for just a second, and you might just start to sink. Peter notices the strength of the winds buffeting his body as he walks towards Jesus, and realizes that his actions are completely contrary to the reality he knows – forgetting that with Jesus, impossible things become a normal part of our reality. Keep your focus on the one you walk with – the strength of the storm will stay away.
Except the way I’m studying this scripture is with the help of a book called A Fragile Stone, a walk through the life of Peter by Michael Card. And he had something a little different to say about it.
We never forget falling – I scribbled next to this quote in my journal, and was immediately transported back to the moment I fell into the creek.
Because here is the beauty in falling. Had it been a normal, non-eventful kayaking trip, winding through the half-shadows cast on the slow-moving water as the sunlight filtered through the tree canopy, it still would have been a beautiful trip and a great day. But falling out of the boat was what made it particularly memorable. It gave us something to remember the day for - a story we all laughed about later, one we could take to all of our friends & my family back home (none of whom were honestly surprised, by the way).
In the same way that leaving with a story makes something we do more memorable and meaningful, sinking when you walk through a storm makes the miracle stick in our souls. Michael Card points out that the “if” is noticeably absent from Peter’s cry once he begins sinking. He doesn’t waste time asking Jesus to tell him who He is, he just asks the only One he knows who can to save him.
And believing Jesus is who He says He is matters, because without faith in His identity, it is impossible to understand our own. In order to believe who He says we are – His hands and feet in a world of winds against us, miracleworkers called to walk on waves – we have to believe He is the one who makes the miracle, the one who calls us to come with Him where He walks. And sometimes that takes sinking a time or two before we are sure – but it’s worth setbacks and scars to be sure, because certainty changes the course of our entire lives. Our reality becomes a little more like His reality – one where “impossible” does not exist, one where a little more faith moves a mountain.
I don’t know about you, but even if it means I fall out of a few more boats, that’s where I want to learn to live.