Sometimes, you get what you get. An empty truism, I know, but in a world fueled largely by determinism, we often gripe when situations — or people — land in our lap. We feel the need to “fix” subpar stuff with a self-selected reality. “I don’t want this; I will take this other thing instead.”
You laugh, but I half expect this ludicrousness to emerge, slowly, in narratives long baked into our culture. Who knows? We may soon read a Bible translation wherein Jesus grimaces when he finds a bungling Peter, opting to go the savior route alone. “Have you actually ever caught a fish?” I hear him jibe.
Jokes aside, this came to roost in a recent a conversation with a friend. We were catching up, skimming the surface of iceberg-deep pains, when he tripped me: “You have never actually believed your life is sufficient.” He was right, of course, because I’m his friend and he knows me better than Peter knows fishing. I laughed. An awkward deflection, but he graciously absorbed my laughter, took the hint, and pivoted into politics. An hour passed and I hardly remembered the emotional flaying.
His words eventually resurfaced. My first reaction was to push blame elsewhere: “This is just who I am.” “This is the product of my life.” “I didn’t choose this.” And sure, for three seconds this elicited some peace. I was able to toss my emotional instability into the trash, leaving space for election musings and fishing thoughts and cravings for chocolate chip cookies.
But it didn’t last. Within 15 minutes, I was back on my sufficiency insufficiency. “What if I’m choosing not to believe my life is sufficient?” I asked myself. Which, of course, is exactly what I was — what I am — doing. Hardly a “what if” scenario at all.
This netted a troublesome emotional catch. Ok, I’m choosing to not believe. Why would I choose this? Why make my life more difficult by convincing myself that I need to get more, achieve more, do more, impact more? More, more, more. Where is all of this more coming from?
I could toss out some academic guesses: My Catholic upbringing taught me any life worth living is only worth living if it produces good constantly. My familial emphasis on education and academic performance pushed me to excel beyond the limits of good, better, best. My own self-doubt insists on my lack and deficiency to such an extent that to merely stay socially afloat I need to out-stretch, out-perform, out-do myself.
I know these ingrained worldviews are largely bunk. Worth and sufficiency are not externally bestowed. I mean, duh, right? And yet, they keep me moving forward. Which sparks another line of questioning: Am I doing good just for validation, negating the purity of the good? Or am I doing good for good’s sake?
Then, an epiphany hit — at 10:04pm in the backseat of an Uber. I seem to think that life is an intentional doing — something that requires focus, labor, attention. In a basic sense, that’s true. But what if I have it wrong on a much deeper level? What if I’m confusing the must-dos of survivalism in a confused and addled society with the ingredients of self-worth? What if being is an act of radical embrace and not a perpetual act of production?
I don’t know Peter, and there’s not much biographical info to go on, but I’m betting he was a big over-thinker. I can see him, barefoot in a rocky fishing boat, fussing with a net. “God, I need to catch a thousand fish today. If I don’t, there will be nothing to sell, which means no money for the house, no clothes, no fire, no internet …”
Then Jesus comes along (that upstart) and bloviates about fishing for men. You’re made for it, he says. Somehow, Peter is convinced. “Me? Fish for men? My destiny? Aw, what the hell. Sounds more fulfilling than this.”
Fast-forward a few years and ol’ Pete is casting about doing what he’s famous for: hooking new believers, owing to a spiritual fire he didn’t really start himself, didn’t fuel, didn’t intend. The new believers, grateful and fulfilled, feed him, house him, keep him clothed. Why? Because somewhere along the way he embraced some realness inside him that was far more essential to being than hooking, lining, and sinkering.
Who knows? All this fishing business might just make for a convenient metaphor. Still, I think there’s something to it. I’m not sufficient because I produce things, catch things, build things — just as Peter wasn’t sufficient because he was (probably) no more than a passable fisherman who measured his net-worth on fins in a net. Who knew he would inspire thousands across millennia to rethink faith, life, purpose, simply because some upstart came along and suggested: Maybe this isn’t you? And who knows what I might do if I just listen to that Jesus-y voice in my head, prodding, “Hey, have you thought about just doing this thing you love? That might be (er, definitely is) enough.”