For a split second, Peter thinks he can do it. Yes, Jesus commanded him to, but _he_ is walking on water all by himself.
And that’s when it happens. Peter begins to sink.
This story, found in Matthew 14:22-33, is one many of us know well. The disciples are scared as the rain and wind batter their boat, and they are terrified as a figure they believe is a ghost (which turns out to be Jesus) walks on the water towards them. It is Peter who calls out to Jesus and wants to walk towards Him. This is no great shock because throughout the gospels Peter is eager to demonstrate his faithfulness, even if his execution is usually flawed. Seeing Jesus walk on water made Peter want to do the same. However, something changes between the time Jesus calls Peter out of the boat and when he begins to sink. There are different opinions about this passage, but I believe that Peter begins to trust more in his own abilities than to depend on Jesus.
That is when things go wrong.
We tend to be a lot like Peter, and not just in our faith. In a perfect world, many of us would choose to be self-reliant. Maybe we prefer to take responsibility, maybe we’re uncomfortable with the fact that we do not know what will happen when we rely on others, or maybe we just do not trust others as much as we trust ourselves. Whatever the reason for our discomfort with dependence, many of us find it to be a scary thing.
If we have to rely on someone, we want it to be a person who thinks and acts like us. In other words, we want to depend on people who mirror us. This is understandable.
We have goals and aspirations, particularly in our sporting lives, and we do not want to risk failure by trusting someone who may not have the same desire, ability, or drive as we do. We find ways to place more trust in ourselves and in our own abilities than in our team. And maybe this works for a few practices or games. It could last an entire season, but it does not work forever. We all sink when we try to walk on water by ourselves.
We may not want to admit it, but deep down we know that becoming the person God has created us to be will not happen by relying on ourselves alone. We must be able to trust others if we are to grow and be transformed. But this doesn’t mean we do not try to convince ourselves otherwise.
I like to think that when I do something well on my own, I have grown. I haven’t. Growth doesn’t take place when all we do is rely on ourselves and our own strengths. Growth takes place when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with those around us, when we depend on them and allow them to depend on us. Growing into the people God made us to be rarely occurs when the only person we trust or depend on is ourselves.
In the moment he was sinking, Peter had two choices: drown or depend on another. Peter chose to reach out his hand, recognizing that he could not survive without depending on Jesus. While we do not know Peter’s thoughts about this event, I struggle to see how he could remain the same after he was pulled from the water. Admitting his need for help was not a failure, it was an acknowledgement that he could not live without relying on another. Depending on Jesus provided Peter the opportunity to grow and be transformed.
At some point in life, we are all like Peter and begin to sink. Will we choose to rely on ourselves as the waters begin to rise, or will we reach out to another and recognize that we cannot do life alone? Matthew 14 is a reminder that we were created to be dependent on one another and on God. And a great place to start practicing this is on our teams.
We need to depend on our teammates to push us and challenge us. We need to rely on them when we are struggling, being open and honest about the challenges we are facing. And we need to show that they can depend on us, offering a helping hand when someone is beginning to drown, not scolding them for their struggles, but pulling them up from the rising waters.