In Matthew 14:19-27 we read about the night that the apostles are in their ship and see something coming toward them. It’s Jesus, but they’re not sure how that can be since there are no other boats and they are in the middle of this body of water. Jesus calls out to them “Be of good cheer; it is I!” and adventurous Peter is willing to see if he too, can walk on water.
Put yourself in Peter’s sandals for a moment, and imagine that moment on the water.
It was probably only a few seconds of time between Peter bravely stepping out of the boat, until he faltered and asked for the Savior’s help. It is late at night – the scriptures say it was during the fourth watch when they saw Jesus on the water, so it was around three o’clock in the morning, with watches being divided into three hours each, starting at six p.m.
Peter walks on water. So often we skip over that part of the story and head straight toward the lacking faith part, but listen: Peter. Walked. On. Water. How many steps isn’t important. What matters is that he used his incredible baby-faith and walked on a liquid surface that in physics should not be able to support his weight and mass of gravity.
Then the wind picks up and starts splashing water on his feet more than before. Then a little more, and enough until Peter loses focus and looks down at his feet, and perhaps it’s the visual recognition of seeing a phenomena of something that shouldn’t be happening that makes him go, “Whoa. I shouldn’t be doing this,” and he begins to sink.
“Lord, save me!” he cries, in what is probably real fear, for even though he would know to swim having been around water his entire life, all of this is a new sensation to him. He doesn’t know what to expect.
In that instant, immediately, Jesus stretches forth his hand to catch him.
Our Side of the Story
Now take those few moments in time, and stretch them out over a lifetime and think of it as cycle. How often do we go blithely through life, doing our ordinary thing, when we decide to do something new – learn, experience, attempt, work – any new phase or challenge in life. Maybe it’s not even new; maybe it’s something as ordinary as just trying to get through every day life.
Things are going along swimmingly (forgive the pun), and suddenly some sort of challenge or obstacle that we hadn’t foreseen comes out of nowhere – waves to lap over our feet and distract us from our goal.
We start to sink and flail and lose our balance, and not knowing what else to do since balancing and walking on our own no longer seems to be working, cry out, “Lord, help me!”
This cycle repeats itself over our lives.
I don’t believe that it was a rebuke when Jesus said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” I believe it was encouragement to get up and try again, knowing that an important lesson was learned that wouldn’t have been gained otherwise, as well as an implicit promise of His help whenever we need it. Not only that, but we should not be attempting any meaningful activity in our lives without the Savior’s assistance.
There is no shame in asking for the Lord’s help – never. Nor is there shame in having gotten out of the boat and attempting to walk to the Savior.
Break the Cycle
The trick is in not letting the wind and waves affect that walk. How do we do that?
In Matthew 11:28-30, there are three verbs that can help us in that quest: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Elder Holland gives us a basic list of things we can do, beginning with a “desire to believe” (Alma 32:27), followed by making any changes that may be problematic.
“Third, in as many ways as possible we try to take upon us His identity, and we begin by taking upon us His name. That name is formally bestowed by covenant in the saving ordinances of the gospel. These start with baptism and conclude with temple covenants, with many others, such as partaking of the sacrament, laced throughout our lives as additional blessings and reminders. Teaching the people of his day the message we give this morning, Nephi said: ‘Follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, … with real intent, … take upon you the name of Christ. … Do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer [will] do.’ (2 Ne. 31:13, 17).” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” April 2006.)
What does the Savior want us to take? In those verses in Matthew 11, he wants us to take his yoke, or in other words, let Him help us. As we make that decision to come unto him, the invitation isn’t to walk behind him, but beside in, allowing him to be our partners in life. “Take my help,” is the plea. As with Peter on the ocean, the outstretched hand is immediately offered. It is up to us to accept or reject it.
Learn of me
The challenge with this one is that sometimes it because a bit of a theoretical exercise, and we may wind up feeling frustrated. Elder Holland again has some specific suggestions on how to start this process.
“My desire today is for all of us—not just those who are ‘poor in spirit’ but all of us—to have more straightforward personal experience with the Savior’s example. Sometimes we seek heaven too obliquely, focusing on programs or history or the experience of others. Those are important but not as important as personal experience, true discipleship, and the strength that comes from experiencing firsthand the majesty of His touch.
“Are you battling a demon of addiction—tobacco or drugs or gambling, or the pernicious contemporary plague of pornography? Is your marriage in trouble or your child in danger? Are you confused with gender identity or searching for self-esteem? Do you—or someone you love—face disease or depression or death? Whatever other steps you may need to take to resolve these concerns, come first to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust in heaven’s promises.
“From the beginning, trust in such help was to give us both a reason and a way to improve, an incentive to lay down our burdens and take up our salvation. There can and will be plenty of difficulties in life. Nevertheless, the soul that comes unto Christ, who knows His voice and strives to do as He did, finds a strength, as the hymn says, beyond [his] own.’
“If we, like Peter, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our eternal destination, we, too, may ‘walk triumphantly over the swelling waves of disbelief, and unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt.’” (Frederic W. Farrar, The Life of Christ , 313;)
At the end of Peter’s short walk across the water, however many steps he took before realizing he needed help, the wind and turmoil ceased only when Peter was back in the boat with Jesus (Matthew 14:27). I can imagine the greeting then was much like how the Savior initially greeted the apostles when they first saw him coming toward their ship: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”