Have you ever tried to help a little child do something quite simple for you? That is something quite simple for you, but perhaps not so simple for them?
When kids are tiny, they instinctively receive our help. But as they grow and gain a little autonomy, we expect them to do some things by themselves, and they want to do so. But sometimes kids (I am told by sources close to the events that I was one of them as a child) refuse to let others help them even when they can’t do it themselves. How many toddlers have emphatically let their parents know, “I can do it myself”? Thus, we see the preschooler in mismatched and wrongfooted shoes wearing his shirt inside out and backward.
Now the desire to do something oneself isn’t a bad thing. In fact, we want our kids to grow in autonomy, to be able to make decisions, and do things themselves. Part of that process is also learning to ask for help when needed. Teachers in school have to help students learn how to ask questions when they need help. Parents, you have the hard job of helping your kids learn the balance between doing what they can do themselves and asking for and receiving support when necessary.
But this balancing act does not end in childhood, we adults often have the same difficulty: One temptation for me as I learn how to be a priest is the temptation to appear completely self-sufficient. I would wager that a similar temptation to appear perfect is present in many places of business and jobs. The temptation also emerges in families who fear asking for help from others. This temptation toward self-sufficiency, towards not allowing our needs to be known by people who could help is a form of the sin of pride.
In the moments when I have chosen humility by admitting I needed help in a situation, I have grown the most. When I’m in over my head, the counsel of a friend, or a mentor often brings a sense of peace. But even more than this, I have found that when we admit and express our need in a healthy way to someone, we grow in communion with others.
Let me be clear, discerning how and when to do this is essential. We should not trust an acquaintance as much as we trust a best friend or a spouse. We should guard our hearts with those we do not know well. But at the same time, we should be willing to ask for help from others.
Above all, we should never try to hide our needs from the Lord. Sometimes we are afraid to let Jesus know our weakness or needs for fear that he will reject us because of them. We have the mistaken illusion that we need to be perfect before we go to God. But this fear and shame before the Lord, though truly felt, is not in accord with who God has shown us that he is. In fact, it is precisely in our weaknesses that he comes to find us.
Fr. Fernandez, a late 20th-century commentator on the scripture, writes, “The experience of our personal weakness will serve for us to find Jesus who puts out his hand and enters our heart, giving us great peace in the midst of every trial.” Look at the movement of Christ, who immediately helps Peter as soon as Peter turns his gaze back to him. Fr. Fernandez continues, “If at times we realize we are out of our depth, that we are sinking, we should repeat with Peter, ‘Lord save me!’ We should neither doubt his love nor his merciful hand.”
St. Paul laments in our second reading precisely because his fellow Jews refuse to receive the love which God offers them. They either believe that they are already perfect through the Law or cannot imagine that God would come to them in this way as one who was weak and needy, to raise up the weak. Paul tries to shake his countrymen into realizing the greatness of their call. He wants them to know that God will give them all that is necessary to fulfill it if they will merely receive his gift.
In the Gospel, Peter’s boldness teaches us that Christ desires us to be bold and serving him and others. Because with Christ, we can do great things; we can do works that would be altogether impossible otherwise. Peter’s humility teaches us that we can only do these things when we humbly admit our need to Christ.
In these, trying and difficult times when we are filled with fear and anxiety, when we are buffeted by the winds and waves of life, do we recognize that God is at once calling us to step out of the boat to walk on water? Do we realize that we will only be able to do so by remaining in communion with him, by looking to him?
Will we admit our need before the Lord brothers and sisters? Will we call out to him? Most importantly, will we accept the hand he offers, clenching it however weakly, so that he can raise us up?
Questions for us to ponder (with the Lord):
- What are my weaknesses, vulnerabilities, wounds? Where am I about to drown and in over my head?
- Have I taken those to the Lord? If not, why not, what am I afraid of? If I am burdened by sin have, I taken it to the sacrament of Confession?
- Who are the people that God has putting in my life with whom I can be appropriately vulnerable and ask for help when needed?
- Where is God calling me to be brave and step out of the boat? Do I ask him for courage to do so each day?