Last weekend I read the story in Matthew 4 of Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him and become his disciples. “Come,” Jesus said to the fishermen. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Matthew tells us that all four men immediately dropped their nets, left their boats and followed Jesus, and I wondered, in that moment, what Jesus might be asking me to leave behind in order to follow him. My initial response was, “Nothing.” After all, I reasoned, last year was the year of leaving things behind. I quit book publishing, I quit writing my monthly column for the local newspaper, I quit speaking. I let so much go; surely there couldn’t be more to release, right?
In addition to the Year of Quitting Everything, 2019 was also a season of deep soul-searching. I read several spiritual and secular “self-help” books, re-entered counseling and filled journal after journal with questions and reflections. I was on a quest, a pilgrimage of sorts, to uncover my true, God-created self, and I was determined to leave no stone unturned. It was an exhilarating, gratifying, transformational season.
Research is my sweet spot, my comfortable place. Nothing makes me happier than gathering facts, evidence, knowledge and answers – especially, it turns out, when my research topic is my own self. I dove into my year of self-discovery with gusto. But here’s what I am realizing about my desire for knowledge, information, clarity and answers: it is, ironically, yet one more way I keep myself at arm’s length from my own self, from others and from God.
There is nothing inherently damaging about [most] self-help books (spiritual or secular). There’s nothing wrong with looking to the guru of the day for guidance and insights. Many offer a tremendous depth of wisdom and compassion, and I learned a lot from what I read this past year. The problem arises, however, when this quest for knowledge and insight becomes both another distraction – a way to avoid – and a means to control.
As long as I assume I can find the answer – the way – “out there,” I don’t have to sit with what’s right here in the deepest part of myself.
When I heard Jesus tell me to drop my nets, I realized he was asking me to drop what had become a safety net. “Come, follow me,” he said. He was asking me to leave my desire for clarity and direction behind in order to walk alongside him in trust, regardless of whether or not I know where we are going.
Jesus didn’t give the disciples any direction when he called them. He didn’t point out which way they were headed; he didn’t offer any clear insights or answers or even hint about where they were going. He said nothing other than, “Come, follow me,” along with the cryptic, “and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus’ presence was answer enough, and he asked his disciples to trust him with that single piece of evidence.
Nets can offer us safety, but safety is not always the better way. What looks like safety can end up entangling us. What looks like security can keep us from the true freedom into which God invites us.
It is good and right to be attentive to God’s movement in our lives, but it is also good and right to trust that he will make the way known without our grasping or pushing, without our seeking or striving – without, in fact, a lot of effort on our part at all. This is not complacency or apathy, but rather, a receiving, a yielding – a surrendering in confident trust that God is putting everything right with us and for us.
As I am learning, there’s always more to leave behind; there’s always something else to drop. Each time we release, we come closer alongside God.