Who’s in Your Boat?
The morning light creeps along the shoreline pushing the darkness back into the night. It exposes three figures sitting on the shore as motionless as the sea. The exhaustion is tangible. They sit on their haunches monkey style, bent knees supporting their forearms, hands numb, cracked and bleeding flop from their wrists. Their heads hang, shoulders too sore to support them. The warmth of the sun feels good. They’re drenched, cold and hungry. They’ve been out all night-all night! Nothing to show for their herculean efforts. They have failed. They feel like failures.
Along comes a Nazarene. It’s obvious he ain’t from around here. Sure ain’t no fisherman. Skin’s too white. His clothes too good. But his hands say he is no stranger to hard work. He says to them, “Let’s go back out and try again.” “Is this guy for real? Does he have any idea what we have been through? While he’s been counting sheep, we’ve been hauling nets! Don’t you see us, friend? We’re finished. We’re done. We’ve hit the wall.”
It seems to me the older I get the more frequently I utter those words. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve hit the wall. Gone are the days I could pull a double shift at the plant, grab a 20 minute nap, down a coke and a Twinkie and be ready to go again. Now, I answer to a back that sends pulsing pain down my leg, letting me know that I’m done even if the job isn’t. And that rots my socks, because, in my mind, I hear the mantras ‘What does being tired have to do with anything? The job’s not done.’ OR ‘It’s only pain, the body’s way of pushing out weakness. Admitting I’ve hit the wall is a tough reality to swallow.
My father was, without bias, one of the strongest and toughest men I have ever known. He had a long journey with cancer. I can remember being at my parent’s home one morning as Dad was making his way to the kitchen table. I shall never forget my father sitting down and then putting his head on the table and muttering, “I can’t do this any more.’ I never thought he even knew those words. But he was done. Finished. He had hit the wall.
Nancy and I have a friend who is an only child. She has two teenage stepsons and mother with dementia and a father who soon will be dying with cancer, piled on top of a-more-than full time job. When she speaks to you her face still smiles, but her hands betray her. They say, “I am so done. I’m finished. I hit the wall two months ago.”
Words you speak to yourself as you come near the end of your career. It’s not that you have lost the passion for what you do, or don’t believe in it any more. It’s just that the world changes and with it come new ways of doing things, and the challenge of new learning curves, and a sense that the way you did things before doesn’t matter any more.
You still have well-earned skills and a wealth of experience that makes some things just innate to you. But the energy is just not there anymore. You’ve hit the wall, been there, done that. Finished. All you can muster now is the willpower to take one step at a time towards that coveted retirement.
I don’t know how the social activists do it. So much injustice in the world. So many wrongs to right. So many hurts to heal. So many silent offenses to raise their voices in protest. Yet the foe seems so relentless, so pervasive, so all encompassing. They’re only human. There has to come a time when they emerge from this night drenched and exhausted. There must be times they find themselves sitting on the shore holding empty nets. They have failed. They are failures.
And there Jesus stands, never having fished before, a stranger in our midst, unaccustomed to our ways, saying to us, “Come on. Let’s go out again.” Is he for real? It is helpful here if we understand that the ancients Jews believed that the sea represented chaos. The Sea of Galilee is shallow and gales erupt in minutes. People believed that demons lived under these waters ready to devour sinful souls. So when Jesus says, “Come on, let’s go back out there”, he is in fact inviting us back into the chaos of your lives. “Are you kidding Jesus? Aren’t you supposed to be my gentle shepherd who holds me in his arms, rubbing healing ointment into my wounds? Are you not my reprieve, my solace, my pasture green and still water?”
“Nope. Let’s go back out there into your chaos. Except this time, I’m going with you.” And that makes all the difference. Jesus came into our lives not to shield us from life but to teach us how to be victorious in our lives. Whoever is with you in your boat as you bounce upon the waves of chaos makes all the difference in the world.
When you are getting older and pushing yourself harder than you should, hard enough that you start making mistakes and have a floor roller redesign your left ear, it’s Jesus who sits on the stern deck watching you and asking, “Why are doing this?” What are you trying to prove and to whom?” Don’t you know that you are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased, and it hurts me to think you feel so little about yourself that you end up hurting yourself trying to prove your own self worth. My love is a gift. So what are you trying to earn?”
When you’re face down on the kitchen table, finished, done, having hit the wall, feeling like a failure because you can no longer take care of the people you love, Jesus says, “It’s okay. Let go. Surrender. Give them to me and I will be here for them. You have fought the good fight, run the race, and it is now your time to move from this life to the one I have prepared for you; to a place where there is no more sorrow or pain any longer. Let’s set the main line and sail this boat through the chaos to the other side where you shall find peace. You may be wearing a ‘happy face’ mask but your hands betray you as you try to man all the oars, set the main sail, and hold the tiller, to keep the boat from being swamped.
It’s Jesus who sits on the center thwart and says, “What do you think you are doing? Why do you think the boat will capsize unless you do everything? This chaos that you perceive is really just life, maybe not life as you want it to be, but it is the way life is. So trust me, relax and let it all be. You’re not responsible for making everyone’s life better. It’s their journey so let them own it. It’s okay for your mother to live in another reality from yours. It’s okay that your father is dying. You need not fear that for I am on the other side.
And to say to the activist, “Without me, you are fighting a losing battle. Remember, that I am the way, the truth and the life. Nothing is more powerful than God’s love and, in the end, this love will be the salvation of the world. But salvation is my job, not yours. So keep up the good fight, but it is I who brings resurrection to this world.
Recognizing Jesus sitting in your boat with you changes the way you see and experience the chaos around you. Your perspective in life changes when you are told that the purpose of your life is to be a servant of others, not to have the world serve you. Your values in life change when you are told that this world is not yours to dominate, to take from as you will, but to live in harmony with all creation. To be told that your purpose in life is to love your neighbour as yourself, and to be as forgiving and understanding to them as you often are of your own mistakes and short comings.
To be told that real power is found in forgiveness and grace, and in doing so, you see diversity as a gift, not a threat, and inclusion as the way to be whole. And what happens when you cast those nets into the chaotic seas? Nets become so full that you can hardly pull them in and you receive the miracle of abundant living.