Some people may think it’s been overplayed for the last year or so, but I’m not getting tired of Hillsong’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” any time soon. It could be because of the huge impact it had on me when I heard it for the first time during that marathon Adoration time at Steubenville last year. I remember just that morning, having read that terrifying, but tremendous story of our lives in Matthew 14, when Peter takes those tentative but trusting steps out onto the water. So when the band was half way through that, what, 15 or 20 minute version of that song, it was hitting me hard. I was starting that day with Jesus calling me out on the water, and finishing that night by taking that scared step into the wind and the waves, trusting he would grab my hand if I started sinking.
Really, it’s just a song. But now, I feel like I’m really living in it.
I can tell Jesus to call me out upon the water easily enough, and just keep going the way I’ve been going this whole time. Yes, I know I’ve been in the seminary for five years now, and I have plenty of people thanking me for my yes and encouraging me with prayer. Yes, there have been plenty of joys and plenty of stresses to come along with it all. But honestly, none of it has felt all that hard to control in some way. It’s been full of blessings and friends and affirmations, and I am so thankful to God for this. But you know what it’s kind of felt like for me?
Like I’ve been sitting pretty in the boat.
Sure, the boat’s been rocking at times. The waves have been a little bigger than I hoped they would be a times (I always did like the little waves when I was surfing). The wind certainly blew me in different directions at times.
But I’ve never felt as “out upon the water” as I have over the last six days. These next two months, I’m finding, may very well be the most important during my whole time in the seminary in shaping who I can be as a priest.
Part of my yes to being in the seminary and studying to be a priest is learning holy obedience. Learning not just some kind of obedience where we accept absolutely everything without questioning, but learning how to find those times when God is indeed calling us out upon the water, especially when we now in our hearts that we’d rather stay right in that boat, when we’re sure that the best place for us may even be back on the shore.
But here I am, right in the middle of Mexico, here to practice, and for all intents and purposes, re-learn Spanish. My host family speaks almost no English and my classes are entirely in Spanish. I know I could have done a much better job of getting ready, so when I came flying into Querétaro, I noticed how beautiful were the green, rolling hills and the almost constant rain pregnant storm clouds, but I couldn’t get out of my heart just how much I was already missing home, being around the ones I love, missing out on everything great happening up there this summer: Camp, Steubenville, Fr. Bruce and Fr. James on their way to their new adventures. Honestly, I was near tears, knowing how much I didn’t want to be here.
So as important as it is to be obedient and to go where the seminary and the Archbishop want me to be, the biggest struggle so far has been feeling so far out of my comfort zone, so far away from where I want to be. I can’t imagine Peter was so sure about what was going on when he stepped out onto the water. I wonder if he felt a little like I felt when I came flying into my new home for the next two months: “This is scary as hell, but I’m going to trust you on this one Jesus.” Sure, this is probably the nicest city in Mexico, and I’ve got a ton of very caring people around me (not to mention patient with my broken Spanish), and everyday I come across two or three simply stunning little churches to pray in.
What’s hardest for me right now is that I simply can’t express myself the way I want to, and I’m so impatient with myself that I fear I won’t ever be able to while I’m here. And so the spiritual battle is real, my friends. Maybe every spiritual battle feeds on those two feelings: feeling alone and not knowing if it’s going to end. No, physically I am doing just fine, but the spiritual battle is real: get back in the boat, run back home; get back in the boat, just hide in your room and don’t talk to anyone; get back in the boat, you’re never going to learn what you’ve come here to learn.
I am not perfectly comfortable with being out of the boat and out upon the water quite yet. But it’s getting a little better day by day. I’m finding more and more, day by day, that as much as I don’t really want to be here, as far away as I feel from all the things that usually bring me to God, God is working harder and more desperately than ever to bring me closer to him. God is calling me out louder and louder, clearer and clearer, out onto the water and that I don’t need to be afraid. I’m afraid that God is going to strip me of so many things I am attached to back home. But this can only mean that my load will be lighter, and it’ll be that much easier to walk out upon the water.