I invite you to contemplate that phrase. Hold the words at a distance, as if you were objectively curious. Bring the words closer, like a jeweler peering at a gemstone.
Personalize the phraseâ€”I became frightenedâ€”and what is conjured? What in your life recalls, or is anxious over the arrival of, fear?
Though three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, John) include Jesus walking on water, only Matthew (Matt. 14:22-33) has disciple Peter speaking to Jesus in the â€œbattered by wavesâ€ boat. In Matthew, Peter shouts . . . â€œIf itâ€™s you Jesus, command me to come to you.â€
Soon, however, Peter became frightened. In the Bible, fear often influences faith. It is part of Adam and Eve being tossed out of Eden. It is Joseph after his brothers abandoned him in a cistern (and then it got worse). It is with Esther in the court of King Ahasuerus. It is Jeremiah dreading becoming Godâ€™s mouthpiece. It is . . .
Back to Peter. Letâ€™s retreat a verse to where his right foot stretched over the gunwales. His eyes, narrowed in concentration, are fixed on Jesus. The other disciplesâ€”again relegated to merely â€œthe other disciplesâ€â€”reveal a stew of reactions to Peterâ€™s decision: envy, worry, trepidation.
Now letâ€™s temporarily leave this liquid moment and settle into an airplaneâ€™s seat at 30,000 feet. Once, flying back to Fresno from a grand adventure, I dozed.
Sometimes I doze with no preparation. Iâ€™m tired or bored, or my book no longer interests me, and I drift toward Slumberland. But this was a time I planned to doze. After tucking the book away, I placed my glasses into the shirtâ€™s pocket. I adjusted my body to pretend I could contort into a comfortable position in an airline seat designed for adults built like two-by-fours.
Upon waking, I fished into the pocket for the glasses and lost my grip on them. Like an anchor without a chain, they dropped away. But where? Without glasses my world is a blur, a nearsighted smear of colors. Were they on the seat between my legs? No. Caught in a fold of my rumpled shirt? No. Did they leap back into the pocket? No. I strained against the seatbelt, groping along the floor with my hand. Nothing. I released the belt and used my book to sweep the carpet, hoping to shift the glasses from the side or front or back to bring them within reach.
I. Could. Not. Find. Them.
Within seconds, I went from calm to panic. My body tensed, my breathing accelerated. My nerve endings tingled.
What are you afraid of?
Many fear public speaking. In fact, Iâ€™m convinced that certain folks are lying when they depart church and express a big, juicy compliment about the sermon. The simple fact the preacher spoke in front of twenty or two thousand seemed a stunning achievement. To a person who dreads public speaking, preachers are little less than gods.
According to one website I glanced at:
A Gallup poll found that 40% of adults have a fear of public speaking. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!â€
What of my fears? As my search became desperate, one was obvious. Without seeing, I am not in control.
During the flight I hadnâ€™t said one word to the passenger beside me. Now, I muttered, â€œCanâ€™t find my glasses. They dropped to the floor.â€ She (an elderly woman with glasses by the way) immediately volunteered to stand in the aisle so that I could expand my search.
Butt in the air, shoulders squished between seats, I found them. With the side temples neatly folded, they were under the metal bumper used for storing luggage on the floor. Every time I swept the area with hand, foot, or book, Iâ€™d struck that metal frame and searched elsewhere.
Back to soon-to-sink Peter. He became frightened. Matthew said it was after he â€œnoticed the strong wind.â€
Jesus seemingly misinterpreted Peterâ€™s crisis. He asked, â€œWhy did you doubt?â€
DOUBT! Peter wasnâ€™t doubtful, he was afraid! Frozen. Stunned. Scared out of his Birkenstocks. The wind was strong. Liquid ainâ€™t cobblestones. Are you kidding, Jesus? Doubt?
And yet wasnâ€™t it?
Fear = Doubt. One fear for me is not seeing. I know thatâ€™s more than living with 20/400 vision. When I am not in control, I doubt myself. And you. And God.
Fear and doubt are forever faithâ€™s companions. They remind us of our limits, our foolishness. And, ironically, they are the fertile soilâ€”or even the â€œbattered by wavesâ€ waterâ€”where our faith may grow and deepen. Fear and doubt put their sweaty palms on me before I asked my wife to marry me. Fear and doubt cavort within my soul before typing the first word for a story on the blank computer screen. Fear and doubt ping-pong in my gut before I ask another for forgiveness.
I am thankful for that woman at 30,000 feet who moved to the aisle. Try another way. Keep at it.
Jesus didnâ€™t misinterpret Peterâ€™s panic.