Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
During periods of trial, it can be easy to stand paralyzed by the storm. We can begin to focus on the crashing waves, the wind blowing so hard we can barely stand, or to shake violently in the freezing rain. In this passage from St. Matthew, the boat was beaten by the waves from the wind, but often the storms in our lives can feel like a hurricane. Suffering, pain, anguish, affliction, and struggles in this life are meant to strengthen us, but most of us battle immense weakness in the face hardships. These are periods that can be marked by doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, mistrust, and a deep desire to flee. So, what are we to do?
Focus on Christ, not the storm
St. Peter is able to walk on water as long as he stays focused on Christ. The moment he takes his eyes off of Jesus, he begins to sink. This is also true for each one of us. When serious illness strikes, the loss of a loved one, violence, natural disasters, layoffs, poverty, and other forms of suffering, it can be easy to focus on the storm. If we focus solely on the cancer, Alzheimer’s, death, flood, earthquake, violence, or in my case, the rare form of pulmonary vasculitis (Wegener’s, GPA) my husband has been diagnosed with, then we begin to sink rapidly. Every new downpour or crashing wave engulfs us and it becomes harder and harder to see Christ standing on the water waiting for us. Suffering always comes in waves. It is not steady, which is why we must focus on Christ and not the suffering. That is not to say that we ignore the suffering, rather, we keep our gaze fixed on Christ so He can carry the heavy load for us. In looking to Him with love and trust we are able to walk on the harshest of seas.
Get out of the boat
St. Peter firmly fixes his sights on Christ before he gets out of the boat: it is once he is on the water that he begins to doubt. We must first focus on Christ and then trust Him enough to get out of the boat. Our current suffering may include matters of life and death. Mine do at present. These can be the hardest aspects of our lives to give over to God because we want to cling to our false sense of control and security. When death, or the possibility of death, comes knocking (which it can at any time), there is nowhere to turn except Christ. When our spouse or child is suffering, the only option we have is to trust in God. We must get out of the boat, so that we can walk with Him through this storm. God is asking us to trust Him with every aspect of our lives, even though the process can be excruciating. The path to holiness isn’t easy, but it’s the only one worth walking.
Pray for faith
In our Fallen state, we all struggle with periods of doubt and fear. It is in times of suffering that these doubts can plague us. We can doubt God’s love for us. Question why He seems to test us so much. There may be times of anger at God or frustration. Selfishness may rear its ugly head as we have to relinquish our own will—including our plans and dreams—to God’s will. When we become paralyzed by the storms raging in our lives, we can doubt as St. Peter did walking on the sea. It is crucial in times like these that we ask the Holy Spirit to increase our faith. Christ asks St. Peter why he had so little faith and that question can also be posed to each one of us when we doubt. Notice how Christ’s call to faith is followed by calm and peace. Seas stop raging and the winds die down. This same serenity enters into our souls through the supernatural gift of faith when we choose to trust and have faith in Christ.
Suffering is something we will all experience at one point or another in our lives. The storms of life can come on with gale force winds which nearly sweep us off of our feet. It can be difficult to keep our eyes on Christ. If we do not, then we will be plagued with doubt, anxiety, fear, and overwhelmed by the struggles of life. We will sink, just as St. Peter sinks. Thankfully, even in our weaknesses, Christ will extend His hand and pull us up when we cry out, “Lord, save me!” In order to keep walking on water in the storms of our lives, we must trust in God and focus on Him, get out of the boat He is asking us to leave behind, and pray for an abundance of faith. He will provide all that we need to make it through the darkest of times.