“Where can I find a prayer for a shallow life?” We know the question: “Is there a way not to have to think so much, struggle so severely, feel so deeply; hurt so badly. And there is. It’s called a shallow life. But, the consequence of a shallow life is – a shallow life. There is a gift to be found only through the hard work of self-knowledge; through the struggle to understand in times of failure and loss; and by going deeper in the mystery that is our life.
Today’s gospel offers us a brilliant allegory for just that sort of deep work. Jesus says to the disciples, and to us, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” In other words, you’ve been working in the shallow areas of life long enough. It’s not that shallow is bad, necessarily: it’s just that you are limited to what you can catch there.
Sure enough, Peter is skeptical. He thinks, “I’m the fisherman. I know how to do this. We’ve been doing it our way all night.” He was just not so sure about heading out into the deep water. But, in the end, the disciples do trust Jesus enough to try it, and what happens? … It almost kills them! There’s just so much there. The boats are in danger of tipping. The nets are tearing. They have to call for help. It’s a huge mess, and they feel as if they might lose everything.
That is a great image for what happens when we actually look at ourselves and our own actions and go deeper in life. It can be overwhelming for us as well. It’s messy; it’s scary; it’s hard. It feels like our sense of self is tearing. We discover a world that teems with mixed motives, selfishness and love; desire & sin and hope and grace. We feel like we are being swamped with the weight of it all.
Yet, if we can trust that deeper lowering of the nets into our own hearts, and hang in there, then we’ll know what Peter knew, what Paul discovered, what Isaiah spoke about in our readings today. We will meet the living God, right there in the midst of our wrestling. “Ah, Lord, I’m such a mess. You don’t want to have any part of me,” Peter says. Isiah cries: “Woe is me, for my eyes have seen Lord of hosts.” Those are the words an authentic encounter with Life … with God … with Love … with meaning. When we are willing to go deeper, we find God right there, waiting for us.
Most human beings go through the first half of life trying to succeed. We want to be good enough, strong enough, worthy enough, safe enough, etc. But we all fail. We are not perfect. At some point, we get depressed at the failure and selfishness at the heart of us. In response to our failures and disappointments, most people usually either get fixated on some moral issue and get angry at the world (usually, this moral thing does not ask much of us) or we get very shallow and settle for little things that aren’t a deep and painful living.
We know how to live shallow lives, don’t we?
• FaceBook! It’s nice, a great way to share pictures and snapshots of your life, but when was the last time you had a heart to heart on your wall? Doesn’t it by nature, keep us (gesture) up here?
• By focusing on the wrongs or actions of others. If we can blame others for our unhappiness, then we don’t have to look at the tough stuff in our lives.
• By our addictions… or busy-ness … or by continuing to think we are EARNING God’s love by how we live, instead of meeting God where God is most found: in our failures and our sufferings.
Being ‘shallow’ isn’t horrible, I guess. It just means that we can only enjoy the surface of things, and never drop through the chaos of our own inner journey to where God lies waiting.
It is a great grace that we were given these readings just before the season of Lent begins. If we live it rightly, this season throws us deeper into the blessed mess of who we are. However, it is also so easy be shallow even about what we choose for LENT: “I gave up jelly beans and coffee and beer and TV and/or whatever.” Okay. But did you let that take you deeper, or was that just something that you did? “I said this many prayers…” Okay. Did you do the work that would open you up to meet the living God, which is much harder?
So as you reflect on the practices that you will choose to mark the season of Lent, reflect on that temptation to live a shallow life and then ask a simple question: Will this “________” (fill in the blank) assist me to go deeper? Or will it simply enable me to stay in the shallow end of the pool? For the same Lord who stepped surprisingly into the boat of Simon and bade him to put out into the deep, waits to walk into your life as well. Will you let Him? And, at His invitation, will you put out into the deep?