Column: Focus and Trust
By Dan FitzPatrick
Most of us have, at times, found ourselves in situations of great anxiety and uncertainty — perhaps even fear — about the future. The causes may be financial or medical, employment related or otherwise, and may come singly or as a “package deal.” Whatever the cause, anxiety can sap the will, drain the spirit and paralyze action. All too often, it can lead to the feeling of drowning in hopelessness. In those situations, if we are smart, we reach out to others for help.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled, “The Great Trust Fall” in which I referenced Matthew’s account (14:24-33) of Peter and the disciples in a boat at “a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” when they saw the figure of Jesus coming to them “walking on the lake.” I’d like to revisit that story.
Imagine that you are Peter in that boat at that moment. You are worried that the boat may sink so far from shore and you are fearful for your life and the lives of your companions. Then suddenly, “shortly before dawn,” you see the figure of the person you believe to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, coming towards the boat, inconceivably walking on the water. He says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
You say, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And He says, “Come.”
Instinctively, without thinking, you get out of the boat and begin, inconceivably, walking on the water toward Him. Your eyes are focused on Him, your mind occupied exclusively with the prospect of finding rescue in the face of peril, your spirit alive with the joy of the moment.
And, then your mind wanders. You lose that focus. Your eyes, distracted by the lighting flashes, stray away from His visage towards the roiling waves. Your ears become aware once again of the sounds of the storm, the thunder crashing, the rain pounding and the excited voices of your friends in the boat. You feel the cold water on your feet, somehow solid as you take each step. Your mind starts spinning, reason telling you that what you are clearly experiencing simply cannot be. Doubt creeps in, slowly at first until it overwhelms all your senses. Suddenly you lose sight of Him, focused only on the threats around you, and you begin to sink.
What if it doesn’t have to play out that way? In my mind Peter is a physically and mentally strong man, and likely no stranger to patience and perseverance; as a fisherman, he would have to be so. While his faith was not perfect (as his later actions would show), he had his “eyes on the prize,” and I would like to think that he could have made it if only he had consciously blocked out the noise around him and stayed focused on his goal.
Imagine now that you are back in the water, sinking fast. Isn’t that feeling familiar? Isn’t it just like being anxious about the many things in life we cannot control? Don’t you want help, someone to reach out a hand and catch you?
Very few of us are saints, but most of us can be quite stubborn when we want to be. So, I have a suggestion: when your mind begins to race and fret with all the “what ifs” and logical obstacles and problems confronting you, summon your inner stubbornness and push those thoughts away. Focus instead on the hope of help, even help in a form inconceivable to you at the moment. Focus hard. Keep your eyes on the prize. Have patience. Persevere. Don’t get discouraged if you falter, but try to refocus as quickly as possible. I believe that if Peter had done so, he would have regained his footing.
Jesus said to Peter “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I think sometimes our tendency to doubt stems from the rather egocentric idea that we have control of our lives, and that anything beyond our experience, knowledge or reason cannot exist. If we are honest with ourselves, haven’t there been moments in our lives that belie that assumption?
A favorite line of mine is, “If you think God is your co-pilot, you are sitting in the wrong seat.”
May we all learn to take our seat, focus on the road ahead, and enjoy the ride!
Dan FitzPatrick is an active member of the community and a volunteer. He serves on the board of Greenwich Emergency Medical Services, Inc.