Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
The story of Jesus walking on the water is recounted three times in the Gospels, by Matthew, Mark and John. It is the story in Matthew that I thought of because it involved Peter and because in my mind it is the perfect example of why we need to have something in our lives to look to as a focal point. A home base. A lighthouse. A truth. We live in an age that tells us there is no truth. Or, that there are many truths, none of them better than the other. Well…which is it? The argument that “there is no truth” is self-refuting. If “there is no truth” then the claim that “there is no truth” itself cannot be true.
Now in this little blog post I’m not going to make an argument one way or the other for what I think Truth is. If you know me or have read me long enough you probably have a good idea of where I stand. Instead what I want to do here is to emphasize that as an individual you have to have some solitary truth or guidepost that you use to steer yourself through the trials of life. This is someone or something that you trust in above all to be your compass when navigating through life’s storms. And yes, it really should be One Thing. To have Many Things will only serve to create confusion and anxiety and relativism. There is only one “N” on our Boy Scout compass. There is one magnetic north pole. Imagine the confusion that would exist if when lost in the woods we pulled out our compasses and the needle kept fluctuating between directions. We have to have One Thing to trust in during times that we’re afraid.
The man sits upright, leans forward, and speaks intensely: “Josip, above all things you must trust it. Trust where it will take you.”
Josip covers his face with trembling hands.
“Are you afraid?” asks the man.
“In your life, Josip, you will have much to fear. In time, you will come to a length of days, and wisdom, and goodness. You will suffer, and this suffering will bring much good to others.”
“I do not understand what you are saying.”
“You do not need to understand. Only remember: you will be afraid. But do not be afraid.”
In the example from Scripture, Peter is unafraid and able to walk on the water as long as he keeps his eyes focused on Jesus, who is Peter’s One Thing. And so it is with us in our endeavors. Successful businesses have a mission statement. Successful people have an over-arching goal. Where Peter gets into trouble and begins to sink is when he takes his eyes off of Jesus and is distracted by the wind. He has lost focus. He begins to flail and to sink into the water because instead of placing his trust in Jesus he worries more about the distraction of the wind, which wasn’t even the greater danger to him. St. John Chrysostom called this the fear of the lesser danger.
The sea caused his dizziness, but the fear was caused by the wind. The sea was the greater threat, the wind the less. As Peter was struggling with the sea, he was on the point of suffering more anxiety from the violence of the wind. Such is human nature that we so often feel exposed to the lesser danger but experience it as the greater. – The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.2.
This is where I think a lot of us get into trouble and off into the weeds because we look to another human being to be this steady rock of truth for us and human beings simply are not capable of it. Not our parents nor even our spouses. Certainly not our celebrities or our politicians. And yet this is where so many today look to put their faith and then cry out when their idols fall from grace.
So one key characteristic of our One Thing is that it must be something in which we can trust. Something steady. Dependable. A rock.
So what about peace? When I asked readers “where do you find peace?” I received the following responses:
Hiking… pretty much anywhere without sidewalks. In my opinion there’s no better place to commune with both the inner and the outer than in the raw of nature.
My most inner peaceful moments are found right after the Sacrament of reconciliation…there is also nothing like being a free spirit in the presence of nature, I find peace and solace there too…which is why I frequently visit the nature world.
I thought these were terrific answers as I feel much the same way about nature. In “the cushion of the sea” we read that
The peace of God is that eternal calm which, like the cushion of the sea, lies far too deep down to be reached by any external trouble or disturbance; and he who enters into the presence of God becomes partaker of that undisturbed and undisturbable calm.
Again I turn to St. John Chrysostom:
For what purpose does he go up into the hills on the mountain? To teach us that solitude and seclusion are good, when we are to pray to God. With this in view, you see, we find him continually withdrawing into the wilderness. There he often spends the whole night in prayer. This teaches us earnestly to seek such quietness in our prayers as the time and place may afford. For the wilderness is the mother of silence; it is a calm and a harbor, delivering us from all turmoils. – The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.1.
Jesus withdrew into the wilderness to pray. Thoreau went to Walden to “live deliberately”. Churchill would go to Chartwell to paint and to read. Presidents of the United States go to Camp David. Where is it that you go to experience a calm harbor?
I agree with my readers in that I find much of my peace in nature. I don’t believe you can grow up on the prairies of North America and not appreciate it for its beauty and its power. I’ve also experienced it on the Atlantic shore in North Carolina and in the mountains that surround Missoula, Montana. A long-term goal of mine has been to locate and purchase a cabin property in South Dakota that I can use as a getaway…a place to have time to myself to think and to commune and to write. But if I am unable to be outdoors when I’m needing peace I can also be found alone in our church in a pew reading or praying by candlelight.
In this life we will all have to brave storms. During trials of faith or fidelity, when we will have to struggle to stay upright and keep our balance, we will need encouragement or a hand stretched out to us. Our One Thing will be a source of inspiration and sustain our wavering hope. Like Peter, we will need our feet set firm on the surface of the water when we begin to sink or be distracted by the lesser dangers. When drowning in our doubts and worries, we will know no fear because of something in which we trust that gives us a peace and clarity of mind.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.
Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you‘ve got to figure out.
Curly’s Law is about doing one thing. But I’m talking about more than doing. Because before we can do anything we have to have a foundation to stand upon for balance (trust) and protection from the storms (peace).
I know what, or more specifically who my One Thing is. He keeps me from drowning whether I’m on the stormy seas or on the dry lands and deserts of this life. We were introduced in a very unexpected way one afternoon thirteen years ago. But that’s another story for another day. This isn’t about me. I didn’t post the first two stories on Peace or Trust for me. I posted them for you.
And so now I’m asking you to take some time to think about you. What, or who, is your One Thing?