Warm water sloshed around my legs while I cleaned my goggles for the third time. Something slimy rubbed against my foot. We were waiting for the blast of the starting horn, and a sense of anticipation pulsed through the crowd.
I dreaded the loud sound almost as much as I desired it.
I was seconds away from my first triathlon, thigh-deep in slimy green lake water at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort. We had a ½ mile swim, 12 mile bike and 5k run to conquer that morning. My friend and I had trained hard the past three months for this moment, and though I was physically ready, my racing heart was firing sharp jolts of fear throughout my body.
I was about to swim a ½ mile in a lake. The distance wasn’t a problem; the slimy, warm green lake was the obstacle du jour. As the starting gun blasted behind us, the pack of 40-some women surged forward.
“Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:25-31
About a minute into the triathlon, maybe 30-40 yards from shore, I echoed the words Peter cried out to Jesus that early morning.
“Lord, save me!”
I’ve been a competitive swimmer since my early teens. I’m not Dara Torres, but I can hold my own in the water. I love to swim. It’s my favorite form of exercise because it’s a phenomenal workout and also relaxing at the same time.
But that Mother’s Day morning, in the throng of splashing water and excited adrenaline, I nearly veered off course toward a water angel. They were the volunteers floating on water noodles around the lake course, ready to help struggling swimmers.
What happened? My confident excitement had turned into paralyzing fear.
As I study the Bible and learn about Jesus’ disciples, I often see reflections of myself in Peter, the fisherman disciple who walked on water with his Lord. His love for Jesus jumps out of the pages of God’s Word as clearly as he jumped off boats for his beloved Savior. He’s passionate and good-hearted, yet he was often emotion-driven and spontaneous.
I get him, probably because I’m a lot like him. (Although I hope I’d be more cautious with a sword.)
Like Peter, I love Jesus with my whole heart, and also like Peter there have been times in my faith-journey that confident excitement turned to paralyzing fear. I overreact and overpromise in the heat of the moment. Too often I’ve allowed emotions to trump the Holy Spirit’s guiding in my life.
I’ve jumped out of the comfortable boat for my Savior only to find my exuberant faith sinking amidst the boisterous winds of uncertainty in this life.
During my triathlon, I felt myself sinking. Literally, figuratively, every-which-way sinking. I didn’t think I could finish the swimming portion of the triathlon. Fear felt like a stone weight in my belly. My arms were heavy tree trunks uselessly slapping the water.
“Lord, save me!”
As lake water churned around me I prayed, “Jesus, you walk on water. Walk with me please. I can’t do this on my own. Please help me finish this race.”
“And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him…” (14:31)
I love that God works through our lives little by little, experience by experience. He sifts our faith until it’s solid and certain and no longer emotion-based. My triathlon was a metaphor for the way God was working through my heart.
The Holy Spirit is still – always – teaching me this truth: I’m to rely on Him in every circumstance. Trials of parenting, stresses over provision, worries about strained or difficult relationships, and fears of mucky green water should all involve our Savior. His strength should permeate our actions and lives.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)
Jesus caught me in that lake. It was one of many times He’s come alongside, rescued me, and lovingly said, “Why do you doubt Me?”
It was His strength that carried me through the sloshing green water and past my overwhelming fear. I finished the swim and went on to the bike and run with renewed energy and determination.
Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him…
Peter was eventually martyred for his faith. He asked to be crucified upside down because he felt he wasn’t worthy to die in the same manner his beloved Jesus had. I will probably never experience such a test in my life, but I pray that each day I will die to self and die to fear in order to live for Jesus.