I confess that I am a card-carrying member of Control-Freaks Anonymous. Planning and organising is in my blood. If there is a holiday imminent, I have lists that cover every conceivable possibility. I teach part time and, when I leave school on the last day the week, I like to have everything in place for the first day of the week that follows. On long journeys, I leave at least an hour extra to cover all possibilities relating to breakdown and deviation from my route (I have an innate distrust of Satellite Navigation, which, in my limited experience, has an irritating tendency to announce – albeit in dulcet, Irish tones - that I have reached my destination, whilst I find myself abandoned in the middle of an industrial estate in no way representing my destination at all). Fortunately, opposites attract, and my non-planning spontaneous-action husband keeps me on the right side of the organised-neurotic line – most of the time anyway.
I have the same approach to life. I try to look relaxed, feigning indifference if I am not in possession of all the re-assuring information I need for the next step on my life’s journey. But inside, my mind is framing possibilities and dangers, decisions and consequences, wishing I knew more clearly what my life might look like next month, next year, ten years from now. I am at my best when I have a plan and a contingency plan and a ‘back-up if the contingency plan doesn’t work’ plan. I confess to wishing that Jesus had cut short his high-altitude sermon in favour of storm-taming or something else urgent, before he uttered the words “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt 6 v 34). I don’t think I’m the only one who finds this a hard command to follow. Spontaneously stepping out of boats, Peter-style, either real or metaphorical just isn’t my style.
I’ve learnt enough from my not-quite-four-decades, however, to know that, sometimes, stepping out of boats is exactly what’s required. I have done this recently, handing in my resignation at work, after a month or so of procrastination and prayer, whilst still not being entirely clear about what comes next. Not being a natural ‘water-walker’ I am heartened by the gospel writer’s account of the Jesus-and-Peter aquatic incident. “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” Matthew 14 v 28-32 (NIV).
I like the text addition in the New King James Version – “O you of little faith.” I like to imagine Jesus uttering this, not in a cross and disappointed tone, but gently, with a knowing smile playing across his lips. Or that he deliberately chose the literary technique of apostrophe, conventionally used to address the absent or inanimate, thereby not expecting a reply. By implication, then, Jesus was not berating Peter or asking him for an explanation for his ‘failure’ – just watching and knowing and kindly lifting him from the precarious waters his step of faith had found him in. Is it a stretch to infer from this that, even if it all goes horribly wrong and the ‘what next’ doesn’t go as I hope it will, there is still a rescuing and a lifting and the possibility of a gentle smile that communicates a Fatherly joy that I tried at all?
What does this mean for our writing? It’s good to have a plan and a back up plan, vision and long-term goals, even if, like me at present, they simply consist of ‘make sure you write the monthly blog post,’ ‘find more time for writing,’ and ‘don’t chicken out of getting on the train to the Scargill Weekend.’ For others, the goals will be bigger and scarier and involve article pitches, publishers, marketing initiatives. Wherever you are on your journey, don’t lose sight, amongst the lists and plans, of the God who called you to step out of the boat in the first place. Remember, as you ride the waves of smudged ink and blank pages, to ignore the doubt and fear that crowds in and, instead, follow the voice of the One who smiles and watches, stretching out His hand, ready to catch and rescue, the moment they threaten to overwhelm.