Answer the Question
There’s a scene in Braveheart about answering questions that goes something like this:
Stephen-The-Irishman has a question for William Wallace. But before he asks the question, he looks to the sky, listens, then says:
“All right, Father. I’ll ask him.”
Stephen then asks his question (which is: “If I risk my neck for you, will I get a chance to kill Englishmen?”).
Hamish-The-Scott is annoyed by Stephen and interrupts the exchange between Stephen and William Wallace to ask,
“Is your father a ghost, or do you converse with the Almighty?”
Stephen has two answers for Hamish. First, his own answer, a quote now beloved by Irishmen and women everywhere:
"In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God.”
Then Stephen looks heavenward, cocks his head as if listening again, responds, “Yes, Father,” turns to Hamish and William Wallace and says:
“The Almighty says don’t change the subject, just answer the fookin’ question.”
Aaaaaahhhh question answering. There are so many things we can figure out if we just answer the HARD questions...when we don’t shy away, when we – as our Buddhist friend Pema Chodron says -- lean into it.
So I can't help wondering...
What if Peter had answered the question?
The Christians say the story goes like this:
Jesus’ disciples are in a boat headed to Capernaum while Jesus is taking some much needed “me time” up on the mountain. Night falls, and a strong wind comes along and starts beating the boat around. In the middle of “making headway painfully,” the disciples look up and spot –
they spot --
Well, SOMEONE or SOMETHING is WALKING ON THE WATER.
They quickly conclude it's a ghost, and they. are. terrified.
It’s Jesus, of course, and He hastens to reassure them: “Take heart, it is I! Have no fear!”
Peter-the-Impulsive is swept up in the euphoria of what he is seeing and blurts: “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water!”
Jesus says simply, “Come.”
And Peter DOES IT. He climbs out of the boat and HE WALKS ON WATER.
And then he doesn’t.
Peter begins to sink. He goes DOWN. His euphoria quickly turns to terror and he’s crying, “Save me!”
Jesus saves him, of course. He reaches out and catches Peter. But He also asks a question.
“Why did you doubt?”
They climb into the boat, the wind ceases, and the disciples sit there utterly astounded.
The question, however, remains.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve heard this story connected to sermons about faith. The sermon is usually something along the lines of Peter got scared, Peter started to doubt, Peter lost faith, PETER TOOK HIS EYES OFF THE LORD, Peter went DOWN.
(You know. Like us. All the time.)
And I suppose it’s easy enough to imagine a disappointed-but-still-affectionate Jesus scolding, “Oh man of little faith, why did you doubt?” because we say our own version of that reproach to each other all the time:
“Oh. Dude. Why did you stop? You HAD it.”
“Man. You were doing SO WELL. What happened?”
But what if Jesus didn’t intend this as a reproach or a rhetorical question? What if He meant for Peter (AND US) to simply answer the question?
“Hey. Let’s look at this. Exactly why did you doubt?”
And what if Peter had answered the question? Once they got settled in the boat, what if Peter thought the whole thing through, start-to-finish, and then made himself answer the question?
Because here’s what Peter would have to look at:
When Peter leaves the boat, Peter is there Jesus is there AND THE WIND IS THERE.
When Peter panics and GOES DOWN, Peter is there Jesus is there AND THE WIND IS THERE.
Nothing has changed.
The wind does not come up suddenly -- in fact, the wind is present before Jesus is. Nothing changes. Nothing changes except what Peter is thinking.
If Peter had leaned into it, if he had answered the question, what would he have realized?
Jesus: Why did you doubt? Peter: I was afraid of the wind. Jesus: But the wind was blowing when you began. Peter <thinks a moment -- OK, it’s Peter, maybe several moments>: That’s true. But I was afraid – I mean, people don’t walk on water, Lord. It’s impossible. I mean, You, yes. But not us. Not, you know, me. Jesus: And yet...?
And Peter has to take it all in, he has to lean in to it. He both walked on water and did not walk on water. Peter has to figure out what that means.
How about you? Why do you doubt?
Do you doubt your God as you understand Him/Her to be? Or do you doubt yourself as you understand yourself to be? Either way. Answer the freaking question.
Do you have something you're looking at that at one time you believed would go a certain way and now you're not so sure? Can you look at why you doubt?
No dodging, no evading, no rationalizing and definitely no attempting to blindly "pump up" your "faith" through sheer force of will. Too much strain, my friend, and definitely no answers.
Just you and J, sitting in the now gently rocking boat, looking at the question together.
Maybe what you're struggling with is a relationship, an illness, a situation, a project.
Why do you doubt? No changing the subject. Answer the question.
And let’s be clear. I’m not trying to show you how to magically get what you think you’ve been asking for.
Because maybe the relationship is over, maybe the recovery-from-illness journey is gonna be a marathon not a sprint, and maybe you doubt the project because deep down you don’t want to do it anymore.
I’m not trying to give you answers. I’m trying to start a conversation.
Between you and Him.
Why do you doubt?
Answer the freaking question. Then listen very carefully to what He says
Because here’s something I know: When Jesus asks you a question, and you answer it honestly, and you lean into it with true effort at self-insight, you are GOING to have a CONVERSATION.
Here’s another thing I know: The conversation will clear your mind and free your Soul.
Now then. Answer. the. Question.