My favorite Bible passage involves Jesus telling Peter to “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4.)
Peter had been fishing all night. He had caught nothing — yet he trusted that, somehow, this would be a good thing. The result was that he caught so much fish his boat nearly sank.
What does this have to do with me, you might ask? My greatest fear as both a kid and a young adult was public speaking. I truly struggled with reading in public in grade school, and sometimes I would get so nervous that even answering the phone at home was an issue for me. In elementary school, in fourth grade, our class was making a presentation to the entire school when it was my turn to read a passage. I simply froze — and nearly passed out.
Other experiences like this of embarrassment or panic tainted my childhood. So when I felt the calling to the priesthood, my first thought was all the public speaking the position would entail. Why would God call someone like me, with my struggles, to this vocation?
Now, 32 years later, and after a lot of purification, I can see the wisdom behind His plan — and I appreciate the tremendous value of being pushed out of my comfort zone.
I am privileged to know Biz Blee, a Washington, D.C., resident, wife and mother of three children. She’s been encouraged by God to “put into the deep” — so I asked her to share her testimony:
A few years ago, I was helping with scripture study as a small group leader. It was led by a dear friend. One day she pulled me aside and asked me to take on her role of coordinating the study, as she was being asked to take on a new and bigger role. After praying about it, I said yes. That didn’t take away how I really felt, which was that I couldn’t fathom how I would possibly fill her shoes — she was such an inspiring light of Christ.
Several months later, my question was still there, and as I headed for our family lake vacation, I was to experience something that shook me from my limited worldview. Off the land’s end were three docks. I love to swim, and so I would go out and swim vigorously between these three docks close to shore in a triangle. Another mom, after watching me do this for a few days, looked at me and challenged me: “Why don’t you go swim out to that far buoy?”
I looked at her, flabbergasted, and said, “Well, I don’t like to swim out there because it’s deep and I can’t see what is below me, and that terrifies me.” She responded: “Overcome your fears! I will watch.” So rather begrudgingly, I did it. Terrified the whole time, I swam to the far buoy and back. The challenge wasn’t over. She then asked, “Why don’t we swim around the whole island?”
Well, we did it! I couldn’t help but laugh as we swam with her husband, a volunteer firefighter, who followed behind in a row boat. God had challenged me in real life to go beyond my comfort zone — to swim in unknown territory, to trust in Him.
I realized it was a metaphor for all of life: When God wants to take us beyond our comfort zone, how do we respond? Do we tread water close to shore? Or do we go out into the deep? I learned to “go into the deep” and swim stroke by stroke. I mistakenly thought that the endeavor God was calling me to was all up to me and my efforts. That was not true.
If we do it with God, all things are possible! We are not alone. God is with us. God’s words to St. Paul also help me a lot in these circumstances: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When I am willing to be vulnerable to God and to others, I see how much this encourages them in their struggles, so that very struggle becomes the fertile ground in which God can work. If I strive to do my best and put my heart into all that I am and do, God will magnify it, as He is never outdone in generosity. It doesn’t mean I will be successful. God wants me to be faithful and He will lead me.
These days, my swim “into the deep” involves getting up early so that I can give some silent moments to God in mental prayer with the Gospel and readings of the day before the craziness of my day begins. It is a daily battle, but I know I want to ask God each day for guidance on what He wills for me. As Fr. Michael told me a number of years ago, ‘Keep your eyes on Christ, and don’t get discouraged.'”
With you, Lord, we can all “go into the deep.” God knows what each of us can handle — and He knows what is best for our fulfillment as human beings. Trust in Him!
There is often a tremendous liberation in leaving our comfort zones and allowing our boats to chart unknown waters. Allow Him to unleash this hidden potential within you, and you will experience the joy of letting go and letting God take control.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.