“After Jesus dismissed the crowd, 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.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
I was reading this scripture the other night and the first thing that struck me was that Jesus had a very long day followed by a very long night. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus goes off by himself in a boat. He had just received word that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed, beheaded by Herod. Matthew doesn’t tell us how Jesus took the news, but he tells us that Jesus’ response was to withdraw, to regain some strength. The crowds followed him and when he stepped off the boat, he was greeted by five thousand people. Matthew says that Jesus was moved by compassion and healed their sick. Then, when evening came, Jesus instructed the disciples to give him the few loaves and fishes they had and He blessed and multiplied them to feed five thousand. That’s a pretty long day when you’ve just gotten news that your cousin died. Afterwards, Jesus goes off again by himself to pray as He sends the disciples out into the boat. When he sees that the winds are against the disciples in the boat, Jesus leaves his solitary place of prayer and walks out on the water to meet them.
Though it could get lost in the details of the beheading of John the Baptist, feeding the five thousand and walking on the water, Matthew quietly underscores that Jesus retreated often to pray to regain strength and perspective. And when He emerges from that time of prayer, miracles happen.
I imagine that Jesus could be defined as an introvert by current personality testing. While that seems odd for the Son of God who healed the sick and came to bring salvation to the entire world, I think that examples such as these point to that reality. Jesus was moved by compassion to perform tremendous miracles. He was empowered by this intimate relationship with His heavenly Father. His time in prayer was the source of His compassion and strength. His interior life was as important as the miracles He performed.
When the winds were buffeting the disciples’ boat, they forgot about the miracles. The disciples were terrified in those dangerous waters. Jesus, empowered by this intimate relationship with God the Father, walks over those dangerous waters and invites Peter to “Come.”
Peter does pretty well walking on the water, as long as his eyes are on Jesus. But when he gets distracted by the waves, he starts going under. Thank God, Jesus saves him.
I find myself living somewhere in between Jesus’ and Peter’s response. These profound examples of Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father, inspire me to deeper prayer. When the waves of doubt come, I hear God tell me to “take courage, it is I”. I am ready to fix my eyes on Jesus and walk on the water. Then I get distracted by doubt, take my eyes off the Lord and start to sink. Can you relate? I think that most of us can. Even if you are not particularly religious, we all seek time apart from the struggle to regroup. After the regrouping, we feel empowered to move, until we lose our focus again and get knocked down doubt.
This past week, I was taking an immersion class for my professional coaching certification. It was pretty intense studying coaching strategies and techniques and applying them to my own life and to other clients. For an introvert like me, it was a long week to be so connected. But, there was plenty of time for reflection, where I regained my composure and strength. In one of the exercises, the teacher led us in a meditation to meet our five year old self. We were invited to engage in conversation with this childhood image of ourselves.
I found my five-year-old self sitting under a tree, playing with Jesus. She seemed happy enough. Jesus was very happy, giddy almost, as we started our chat. Though he said nothing, Jesus’ presence gave me peace. I imagined that my five-year-old self asked me if it what she dreamed about came true. Did Jesus really have a special plan for her life? Did she help others find God? And with great excitement she asked me, “Do I sing?”
I assured her that all those things came true and this intimate relationship with God was the source of all our strength and inspiration. Then, I saw doubt in my five-year-old self. I felt a little sad and a little intrigued that the battle with doubt began at such a young age. I reassured both my five- and 50-year-old selves that in the presence of Jesus, there was no need for doubt. When I keep my eyes on him, I can step out of the boat and walk on the water.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.