Column: Trolling, faith and muscle memory

BY ANDY EVENSON
GUEST COLUMNIST

A few weeks ago I bought a fishing boat.

Ever since my family and I moved back to Minnesota I’ve wanted something to get us out on the water to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in our lakes and rivers and to practice the art of fishing. My boat has a bow-mounted cable-steer trolling motor, which is different from ones I’ve used before. The first few times I used it, I went in circles or perilously close to a rocky shore.

Now that I’ve been out a few times drifting and a trolling, I’m starting to get the hang of it. I can steer the boat pretty well without looking at where the motor is pointing. I know that if I press down with the front of my foot, the boat will steer right. If I press down with the heel of my foot, the boat will steer left. The muscles in my foot and leg have been trained to steer my boat, no differently than the muscles in my arms are trained to shift and steer my car.

Now, when a large boat creates a big wake on the St. Croix as it goes by, I simply press down with my heel and steer into the wake, and then straighten the boat back out, mostly without thinking, all the while continuing to troll for those elusive walleyes or drift and troll for bass.

Our church’s gospel reading this week is about Jesus walking on the water to the disciples riding in the boat and Peter wanting to try walking on water as well. Peter initially is able to do it, but then the wind and the waves draw his attention, and he starts to sink. Like in life, Jesus is there to help Peter back up, and there’s a perfectly good boat for him to return to.

We might frown upon Peter because he didn’t have enough faith to ignore the wind and the waves. He simply hadn’t developed the muscle memory for his faith to provide a calm way for him to respond to the storm. So he trusted Jesus to catch him, went back into the boat, and kept on practicing his faith.

I’m writing this column in this midst of our Vacation Bible School week, where we’re trying to help the kids (and youth and adult leaders) develop more faith muscle memory. We’re learning about God giving us comfort, patience, peace and joy. God gives us these things in the midst of dangers, storms, stress, violence and grief.

Trust in God doesn’t take away or promise relief from the dangers and storms. I can practice fishing and steering my trolling motor for years, but there will still be wind, waves and larger boats creating challenges. Peter tried to walk on water on a fairly windy day. Even the boat was being badly battered, so I can’t imagine the difficulty he had trying to get his feet to float on the waves. Even in the midst of the wind and waves, he knew he was in a safe enough place to take a risk and stretch his faith, knowing Jesus was nearby to lift him up if he fell.

My hope for the kids attending Vacation Bible School, and for all of you and for me, is that our faith can be practiced well, so that we trust God will steer us through any storm of grief or worry, and that we have safe places to grow and take risks stretching our faith, knowing Jesus is always near to pull us back up.

Andy Evenson is senior pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Lake Elmo.