I’ve been thinking a lot about a story in the Bible I heard all the time when I was a kid. It’s the one where one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, walks on water. If you’ve never heard it, let me quickly recap.
The disciples are in the boat without Jesus (he sent them ahead and told them he’d catch up with them later— HA!) While they’re struggling against the wind to cross the sea, they see a figure walking on the water ahead and after being terrified and believing the figure to be a ghost, they see it’s Jesus. So Peter decides to test Jesus and says “Lord if it’s really you, let me come walk out on the water with you.”
Jesus tells him to come and he does. Peter starts walking on the water.
But then he looks around and notices the wind and the waves and gets scared and starts to sink, calling for Jesus to help him out of the water, which he does. And he asks Peter “Why did you doubt?”
The Bible doesn’t record Peter’s answer, but I can hear it in my heart— because faith is hard.
Faith is HARD. And I’m tired of pretending like it’s not.
I’ve been having the same conversation with people these last few weeks— when it comes to matters of faith, why do I always feel like a fraud? When I stand in church and watch people around me worship, why do I get cynical? Why does it feel like everyone else is experiencing something so naturally that is such a struggle for me? Why is faith hard?
I’ve asked these questions myself. And I ask questions about this story— why did the favor that let Peter walk on water “lift” when he doubted? Does that mean doubt is bad? Does that mean Jesus is disappointed in us when we doubt? In Sunday school the moral of the story always boiled down to “Don’t doubt or you’ll sink.” But what if Jesus had another message?
What if the message we were suppose to get from that story is — faith is hard? And Jesus knows it, and wants us to understand that there are no amount of miracles that can really “make” us believe anything we don’t open our hearts to?
Which is why I think we need to stop pretending as a community of believers that faith isn’t hard for us, sometimes every day. That can be faith that God exists, faith that he’s good, faith that he’s Jesus, faith that he will do what he promises, faith that any of this is real.
What if we shifted the cultural expectation from the idea that “none of us will question anything” to “all of us will question something”? And Jesus isn’t so much concerned about “if we will doubt” and more concerned about the things that cause our doubt and if we know he’s available to us to process them. The first thing he did when Peter doubt was lift him out of the water.
It’s easy to feel alone in doubt because when it comes to faith, like everything in our lives, we’re always most eager to talk about the highlight reel— that conference transformed me! That word shook me! That encounter was real! That verse made me feel closer to God! I get it, it’s natural. It’s the same instinct that makes me want to post a selfie after a workout, it says “Hey look at the really hard thing I just did! It makes me feel awesome!” It’s not bad, it’s just not the whole story.
But sharing the whole story is scary because of the shame culture we’ve created around doubt. We’re taught to be leery of people who question the Bible, we burn the questioners at the stake, call them heretics, excommunicate them, stop selling their books or asking them to speak at conferences. And in the process we’ve hedged off a very important and holy space that is necessary for faith to thrive— the wrestling ring of faith. Instead of finding the hand of Jesus lifting us up, we find his people shoving us down and out.
Faith is hard and Jesus knows it. Before he leaves his disciples he says "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me." (John 20:29) That means you and me.
So for all my friends today who feel like frauds or not good enough. To everyone who feels like they’re sinking and are waiting to see who’s going to come and help them up. Know this: you’re normal. You’re doing faith right. You’re asking God to show up and be the person he has claimed to be. We are the ones who wrestle with God and I believe he LOVES it. It means you care. It means you’re paying attention. It means you’re sensitive to what he’s doing and to others. And for some of you, your doubt isn’t what’s holding you back from God, it’s what he using to propel you into relationship with him. Because faith is hard, and Jesus isn’t pretending it isn’t.