By Sandy Prather

Fear prevents us from ‘putting out into the deep’

It’s a common image in the summer: the parent/grandparent/teacher standing in the pool, arms outstretched, cajoling, demanding, pleading, “Just jump in, I’ll catch you.” The hesitant, fearful toddler/child/non-swimmer is doing the stutter-step at pool-side, longing to jump in but afraid to make the leap into deep water.

Deep water scares us; not many of us feel totally comfortable there. It’s a little unsettling not to have something solid under our feet. We wonder what’s swimming below us. Feeling ourselves at the mercy of wind and wave, we fear drowning if we are swimming, capsizing if we are in a boat. Deep waters are a little too wild and unpredictable for us. We prefer the shallows, where we can feel the bottom, see what we are doing, build our sand castles and dabble happily in safe, secure waters.

When that’s our reality, we don’t really welcome Jesus’ invitation to Peter: “Put out into the deep.” Like Peter, we might protest, “We’ve been there before and nothing happened,” and our reluctance is perhaps more futility than fear. But, as Peter discovers, when we go into the deep at Christ’s command, things are different.

We think about the depths involved in following the seemingly simple command of Jesus: “Love one another.” Real love is always going to require us to put out into deep water. We might have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and be texting, twittering and tweeting constantly, but if we haven’t navigated beyond superficial chatter and casual pleasantries, we haven’t loved.

At some level, we know that for real friendship and love to develop, we have to be willing to leave the comfort zone of casual encounter to embrace the real stuff of peoples’ lives. We have to risk being vulnerable and open to the other, to take them into our hearts so profoundly that their joys and sorrows become known to us and ours to them.

That’s deep water, indeed and it is both painful and challenging. To embrace another’s suffering is to feel in one’s own heart the pain the other endures. To open one’s own heart to another is to run the risk of being misunderstood or rejected. That’s why we often navigate the deep waters of relationships with trepidation, hesitating to embrace fully, fearful of involvement, cautious about our reception.

But intimate relationships are precisely what Christ calls us to. Jesus’ command that we love one another arises from the very essence of who God is. Real relationship, unity of heart and spirit, is what God desires for us. “Father, that they may be one as you and I are one,” Jesus prays and the inter-Trinitarian life of self-giving, mutuality and reciprocity is what he means.

Christ invites us to enter into the deep waters of close relationship with those we know and those we don’t know yet. To make the stranger a friend and the friend a beloved one: it is the gospel imperative and God’s dynamic of life.

But our fear prevents us. Like the child standing poolside, we need some assurance that someone is there to help us if we need it. The good news is that we are like Peter here as well. When Jesus tells Peter to “Put out into the deep and lower your nets,” he is in the boat as he does so. Peter, fishing in the deep waters all night by himself, had caught nothing, but now, with Jesus beside him, the catch of fish threatens to overwhelm them. Peter knows that it is Jesus who makes the difference (Luke 5:1-11).

So it is in our attempts to love authentically. Our fear keeps us dabbling in superficialities and when we do venture out, our ego, selfishness, woundedness and weakness get in the way. It is only with Christ as grace and guide that we can conquer our fear and transcend our limitations even to the point where we might be able to lay down our life for the other. Alone, it’s probably not possible; with Christ alongside us, we have a chance.

When we refuse to enter the deep waters of intimacy, we condemn ourselves to the shallow waters of relationship. But when we are willing to navigate the deep waters of love, it helps to have Jesus with us. When I swim with my grandchildren and I invite them to come into the deep waters, their response is, “Only if you are there.” It’s a good phrase for us to keep in mind whenever we hear Jesus say, “Put out into the deep.”

Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.

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