From Shallow Conversations to Walking on Water: An Invitation to Deeper Communication

IMG_0024Imagine that you’ve just arrived at your hotel for a much-needed vacation. You don’t even bother unpacking your suitcase because you have one thing in mind – the pool. Growing up, you loved to swim so much that you might as well have been a fish, and even now, something comes alive in you any time you’re around water. You don your swimsuit, race through the hotel lobby, and practically take out a couple kids as you jump right in…to the shallow end of the pool. The cool blue water barely makes it past your knees, but you don’t care. You’re just happy to be able to swim again. Never mind that water this shallow makes swimming next to impossible…

Suddenly, you’re aware of some snickering going on right beside you. You turn to see some fellow vacationers pointing and laughing at the floaties you’ve strapped on your arms. You wonder what they find so amusing. This is the way you’ve always gone swimming. The shallow end of the pool is comfortable and fun, and your floaties keep you extra safe. As you stand there musing, you overhear someone say, “Why don’t they swim in the deep end? It’s clearly where they belong…”

For the first time, you take a good, long look at the other end of the pool. There are people of all ages making a grand entrance with backflips off of the diving board or tsunami-inducing cannonballs. As terrifying as that seems, something buried deep in your soul begins to leap. You start to feel a tug on your heart as a little voice inside you whispers, You were made for more than the shallows. Take the plunge into the deep.”

And…cut. Come back with me to reality. I know what you’re thinking: “That story makes no sense. What grown man or woman in their right mind would swim in the shallow end of the pool while wearing floaties like a child? That’s so silly.” You’re right. It is silly. It’s also exactly how most of us are content to communicate with each other. Think about it. When we say hello to someone, we often ask, “How are you?”, to which they typically respond, “Good!” or “Fine!” They may even turn the question back on us: “And how are you?”, and we’ll say “I’m doing well, thanks!” Really? If you’re anything like me, you’re most certainly NOT fine all the time, and I’d venture to guess that the people you’re talking to aren’t either. Chances are, you’re both more content to swim in the shallow end of the pool of conversation where things are safe and predictable than to dive into the deep end of your hurts and worries and doubts.

In other cases, you sit down with a trusted friend for coffee, and you find yourself shooting the breeze for hours, talking about things that won’t matter tomorrow: the weather, the score of last night’s game, or the latest dramatic outburst from one of the Kardashians. It might be fun for a couple hours, but you leave feeling like nothing really got accomplished. Somehow you said a lot without saying anything at all. If you’re honest with yourself, you know it doesn’t have to be this way. You crave connection and desire depth, and friend, that’s exactly what you’re about to find. What I’m proposing to you isn’t some quick fix for all of your problems or a cure for shyness or a list of twenty riveting conversation starters. I simply want to show you that we were all made to dive into the deep waters of intimate connection. In fact, I know Someone who’s inviting you to walk on water.

In Matthew 14, we find a well-known passage that has inspired songs and sermons for centuries. Instead of letting familiarity bore and blind us, let’s look at this text with fresh eyes and insert ourselves in the story. Verse 24 tells us that Jesus’ disciples were in a boat on the lake fighting heavy waves. Have you ever been there, fighting wave after wave of fear, loneliness, or depression, desperate for rescue, convinced that the roaring waters will be the death of you? Or perhaps that friend you meet for coffee is fighting to stay afloat, just waiting for you to throw them a life preserver, to ask how they really are, to be real with them, to go deeper.

After struggling through the storm for a few hours, the disciples saw Jesus coming toward them, but he wasn’t rowing their way in a boat or even swimming… He was walking on the waves! As you can imagine, His followers were more than a little rattled by this. They couldn’t fathom how a human being could possibly do such a thing, so they assumed Jesus was a ghost. Immediately, Jesus set them straight by saying, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!” Beloved, I believe He’s speaking the same reassuring words over us today. If you’re terrified to own up to whatever it is you’re struggling with or resisting the urge to give someone else the space to be vulnerable with you, remember this promise from Jesus from Matthew 18:20, Where two or three gather in My Name, there I am with them.” If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing to someone who’s hurting or not being able to explain what you’re going through, be encouraged. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:19-20, Don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking – it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” That makes those waves look a little less threatening, doesn’t it?

Let’s take another look at Matthew 14. As it turns out, Jesus wasn’t the only water-walker in this story. Peter called out to Jesus, and Jesus immediately asked him to come to where He was. Just like that, Peter leapt over the side of the boat…right onto the crest of a wave! And then another! And another! Perhaps you’re thinking, “Of course Peter could do something like that. He was in Jesus’ inner circle. Total VIP status. But me? If Jesus knew the things I’ve done, He wouldn’t think twice about letting me stay in the boat. He wouldn’t want to use me.”

Consider Peter’s track record with me for a moment: He was rash, impulsive, and pretty insecure most of the time. This same man that met Jesus amidst the waves would later deny knowing Him three times. Yet, even knowing all this, Jesus told Peter, “You are the rock, and on this rock, I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus saw past Peter’s failures and flaws and breathed life into who he would become. Because He does the same with us today, we don’t need to enter the depths of vulnerable conversation in fear. The waves may seem daunting, but with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can scale them with ease. When we ask Him to take us further than we’ve ever ventured, He will always say, “Yes, come.” Even if we falter, He is quick to take us by the hand, ever attentive, ever strong for us, never allowing us to drown. So what are you waiting for, beloved? With Jesus as your guide, you’ll be able to navigate the tides of real, impactful conversation with more bravery than you ever thought possible. Don’t settle for the shallows of small talk. You were made to walk on water.

Called to Create, But Not Defined By It

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When asked about his approach to writing, author Ernest Hemingway’s response was brief yet powerful: “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Like Hemingway, writing is often as easy and natural for me as breathing… Except when it’s not. Anyone who has ever met me will tell you I am undoubtedly an external processor. Situations and thoughts hardly make sense to me if I am not able to put them into words. As much as I love talking through things, I thrive when I write about them. There is something equally exhilarating and therapeutic about scouring the depths of the English language to find the best words to communicate what’s going on in your head and your heart. You can imagine my frustration, then, when the vice grip of fear and insecurity began to take hold of my writing process.

For several months, my notebooks collected dust on bookshelves, and my list titled “Blog Post Ideas” was blank. I wondered whether my goal of becoming a full-time speaker and writer was simply a pipe dream. Suddenly, all my feelings seemed trivial, and I became convinced that the thoughts and convictions I yearned to put into words couldn’t be nearly as impactful as what I was already reading and hearing from others. I found myself asking, “How do you wrestle with the reality that you were wired by God to have words running through your veins – wild words, lofty words, bold words – all the while knowing you must tame them, master them, and make them palatable yet piercing, relatable yet riveting? How do you grapple with the relentless, insatiable need to pour out your soul on paper while knowing full well that your inmost thoughts will likely be scrutinized, criticized, and even flat-out rejected?”

Once the fog of self-doubt lifted, a simple answer from Jesus became clear: Write anyway. Don’t just write despite the fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and brokenness that is threatening to silence you; write because of it. Let it drive you, carry you, inspire you, and, at times, completely wreck you, but do not, under any circumstances, let it stop you.

If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “I’m definitely not a writer, and I’m not even sure I could call myself ‘creative’”, I have news for you. You are creative because the One who formed you is the Creator of every good thing, and you were made in His image. You are most truly you when you are creating. Who knows what person or thing or experience is out there waiting to inspire you to form something that only you can?

Realizing the creative potential in each one of us led me to another question, “How do you rise above the label of being a “creative” – a writer, a singer, a sculptor, or a whole host of other crafts – and fight off the temptation to let your work define you?” The answer, again, is simple, but the process of allowing this truth to root itself in every fiber of your being is easier said than done: You must choose to believe that Jesus defined your worth when He went to the cross for you 2,000 years ago, and He stamped you with His seal of approval before anyone else got a chance to disapprove.

It’s less about what you do and more about who He is; in Him is complete freedom – freedom to feel, to think, to doubt, to wonder, to fail, to hurt, to live, and to try again. Create out of that. Let your work be messy, gritty, and your own definition of beautiful. More than anything, let it be fully and unashamedly you, a way for those who encounter it to dip their toes into the raging sea of things that make you tick. Know that the One who made you sees all those things – the pure and the ugly, the joy and the pain – and calls them worthy of being shared, fully redeemable, and good – very good.

Giving Up Worrying for Lent

I’m giving up worrying for Lent. No, it’s not some food fast or a social media cleanse, but as I reflect on what has consumed my heart and mind lately, it’s been worrying: worrying about post-grad plans, worrying about exams and projects, worrying about friendships… The list goes on and on. Usually people give up something that they love for Lent, but I’m choosing to give up my comfort zone. This constant state of worrying definitely isn’t an enjoyable mindset, but it’s a mindset in which I’ve made a home. I’m so used to worrying over everything that I have a hard time thinking about things any other way. Jesus doesn’t want my heart and mind to be weighed down like this. He longs for me to lay all of my worries at His feet because every one of them matters to Him. Besides, worrying about things will never change the outcome anyway. It will only serve to break me down, burn me out, and crowd out any space that I could give myself to listen to and trust in Jesus. Why hold on to worry like a life vest to keep me afloat when I can instead let myself be carried in the arms of the Prince of Peace who walks on water? Starting today, I’m exchanging my chains of worry for the freedom that comes from receiving God’s peace. If worry threatens to take root in my heart again, its voice will be drowned out by my song of praise that comes from accepting the grace of Jesus – grace that allows me to rest, grace that knows what’s truly best for me, grace that walks with me through the process of letting go.