Over the past couple of weeks, I have felt a strong inclination to study out distractions more in depth. It is something that seems so minuscule and unworthy to address at times, after all, distractions seem to be temporary and fleeting most of the time, right? The new job that demands your attention, the difficult classes that require your full concentration, a relationship that commands devotion, and just figuring out what the future may hold can cause anxiety or apprehension. All of these examples seem to take our minds to a different place, seemingly for just a short amount of time. That’s the problem though; the word “short” is a very vague word. It is a word used to establish ambiguity, but create a sense of hope that the short affair will be over soon. It acknowledges an end, but not an end point. It is not a concrete word, it is a subjective connotation utilized to buy more time in order to continue doing what we’re doing while avoiding accountability. Think about when we were younger, and our parents or teachers would claim that something would be over “soon” or “in a bit.” These words mean various things to different people. “Short” can mean a minute, an hour, a few hours, days… The list goes on. So, my question is, how often do we tell ourselves that these meaningless distractions will be short lived, only so we can stop them at a time that we decide is more convenient for ourselves?
In Matthew 14:25-31, distractions among the disciples are present in this scripture. Peter, one of Jesus’ devoted followers, is in a boat along with other disciples, waiting for Jesus to finish praying on a nearby mountainside. It says in the passage that the boat that the disciples had boarded was a considerable distance from land, due to the winds and waves buffeting against it. In addition, this occurred during the night, so the fright factor was definitely there. At dawn, it all goes down. Jesus is seen walking on the lake, but the disciples don’t recognize Him. They immediately resort to fear, crying out that it is a ghost that’s before them, but Jesus immediately puts this fear to rest by explaining that it is him, and not a creepy apparition.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“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 water and came toward Jesus.
-Matthew 14: 27-29
Jesus calls Peter, and Peter comes. He is focused on the calling, his eyes are solely on Jesus. He is walking on water, achieving the impossible! Everything is peaceful, despite the chaos in the background. His focus is on the Lord, so automatically everything around him seems so small. All is well until the next verse…
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
As soon as his focus went somewhere else, his thoughts became full of worry and fear. What happened? Peter became distracted by the wind. It’s interesting how of all things to become distracted by, it was the wind that caused his downfall. The wind – an inescapable force, surrounding Peter, entrapping him in worry and doubt. The wind – something that Jesus could easily control, yet Peter’s sights were set on the problem rather that the solution standing right in front of him. The wind – a part of nature that can be so much as a breeze or as damaging as a hurricane. Yet it never really says just how strong this wind was that distracted Peter; it is assumed that it was strong, but never fully explains the amount of strength that it really had. I think that’s how distractions in our life work, too. We become so consumed in how big the distraction is, we become so full of fear or anxiety that we forget that Jesus is standing right there, more than capable to speak the storm out of existence. When was the last time that you were distracted by the wind? When was the last time that you let it get the best of you and you started to sink?
The thing about sinking is that most people don’t go under right away and die. They usually put up a fight, try to float for a bit, tread water and exhaust themselves, or try to swim to the nearest safe place. Sinking is not a passive thing, it’s a very active struggle, but how many times do we find ourselves slowly sinking and try to handle it on our own? In this moment, though, Peter looked to Jesus, he didn’t try to stay above water himself.
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Did you notice that first word, though? IMMEDIATELY. I love that in the moment that Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand with such a sense of urgency. He catches a sinking soul. That is the grace of our God! In our drowning moments, Jesus stoops down and rescues us. What Jesus says next, though, does not seem as encouraging, but Peter needed to hear it. That is also our God.
Peter let the distractions give birth to faithlessness. His identity in that moment was one of little faith. It says Peter became afraid, and that was the beginning of a crippling snowball effect. As soon as fear overtook him, he could no longer stand. His distractions progressed to fear, and soon enough, fear progressed to faithlessness. The one who has little faith doubts. The mere distraction of the wind had progressed to doubt in Jesus. How did it escalate so fast? The wind seemed short. It felt fleeting. Distractions lead to a path defined by lack of faith and full of doubt. But why did Peter doubt? I think it is evident why Peter felt the temptation to doubt Jesus’ power. The wind was the focus, it was too much to take in without a savior in the line of vision, too. Peter’s sights were set on the chaos around him, not the offering of peace in front of him. It is either black or white, set your sights on things above or the worries of this world, there cannot be a gray area here. Taking your eyes of Jesus is faithlessness, that’s what it boils down to.
There’s more to the story, though. Often times, Peter gets a bad rap here. He was full of fear, he lacked a lot of faith, but what about the other disciples in the boat? If Peter had “little faith,” then just how much did the other disciples have? They weren’t even willing to step out onto the water towards Jesus in the first place. Yes, Peter seemed to have failed, but look at “little faith” in a new light, it was more than the rest. He had the nerve to question Jesus, so in return, he got to experience a supernatural answer. The other disciples didn’t. Peter took a risk in order to get to God, but what did the other disciples in the boat do? They stayed comfortable. Peter was the only follower that even had the audacity to question and walk out to Jesus. The others were fearful, but Peter had faith, though it was small. So even though he failed to remain above the water, he had enough faith to approach Jesus despite his uneasiness. “Little faith” was all Jesus needed to reveal a divine encounter.
All in all, what are the “winds” in your life? How do you handle them? Do you try to remain comfortable like the other disciples in the boat or are you actively pursuing Jesus like Peter did? When the winds catch your attention, do you refocus on Jesus or are you worried about the mayhem around you?
The two examples I have presented before you tell the story of two different viewpoints. The disciples in the boat saw the winds and a ghost, and decided to praise Jesus after the storm had past. The distractions took the spotlight in their minds, and Jesus was only thought of after the winds had died down. Fear had won. Peter saw the opportunity to pursue Jesus, but fell when he magnified the distractions rather than the Lord. The winds were too much because that’s all he was focused on, but he persevered and cried out to Jesus when he recognized that he was sinking. Both examples are not ideal. The ideal story would be that Peter walked towards Jesus with no doubt, no fear, and no worry. How wonderful it would be if we could do that in our daily lives, but the truth is, sometimes the distractions, well, distract us for a while. Redirect your attention to the one who stands before you, ready to catch you when you fall, prepared to reach out when you begin to sink.