Fishing for hope

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“Throw your nets on the other side,” He said. “Just give it one more try.”

I don’t actually know anything about fishing. The last time I went fishing, I let go of the button thing too soon and threw my line – and sharp hook – right into my friend’s hand. Yes, that’s right. I caught my friend’s finger with my hook.

Clearly, it’s better for everyone if I don’t fish.

I don’t like eating fish, either. Seafood just grosses me out. And yet, the story recorded in John 21 has been stuck in my head for a few months now. It’s been flickering through my brain long enough, in fact, that I could really imagine myself in the middle of the story.

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It had been a long night. I don’t remember whose stupid idea it was to go fishing, but there we were, exhausted and not just a little grouchy.

I guess it wasn’t the worst idea, going fishing. I mean, what else were we going to do? Sit around, staring at each other and asking the same questions again? At least this way we’d snag something to eat.

Well, we should have gotten something to eat. But, just like everything else in the world right now, this trip was a bust. Hours we’d sat in that boat, rocking with every wave and drifting around the bay that should have been home to loads of fish. Hours we’d tossed our nets into the black water, pulling them up, heavy but empty as our own hearts.

We’d jumped into the boat in an attempt to take a break from our misery, and what did we get? An annoying metaphor for life. Yep, there we were – being pushed around by waves, slapped in the face with cold winds and empty nets, and reminded once again that nothing was as it should be.

After everything that had happened, the only thing we knew is that we didn’t know anything. Confused and disillusioned, we returned to the task that had served us well enough before. Even if we didn’t know anything, we knew fishing.

At least, we used to know fishing. Our empty nets and stomachs told a different story.

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The sky was beginning to turn. We knew day would break soon, and we’d have to go back to the others and admit defeat. Again. Even a seaside sunrise couldn’t lift our spirits.

As we dragged our nets in one last time and began picking up our supplies and our weary limbs, we heard a voice.

“Did y’all catch anything?”

Really? We couldn’t even wait until we got home to talk about our worthless night spent in the water? Who was this guy, anyway?

No, we told him. We didn’t catch a darned thing.

“How about throwing your net on the other side of the boat?”

Are you kidding me? Who does he think he is? And, really? “Just give it another try”? Like we haven’t been doing that all night?!

Uh, yeah, we replied. Been there, done that. We’ve tried for hours and we’re just going to head home now. But, you know, thanks.

“Just give it one more try. Throw your nets on the other side.”

Ugggghhhhhh. Fine. Fine! You want us to give it one more try? Fine. Let me show you, mister, just how many fish are one the other—

What the?!

I don’t even know what to say. We threw our stupid nets on the other side of the stupid boat, knowing full and well they’d come up empty. Maybe then that man would mind his own business and leave us alone.

But before we even got the nets completely in the water, they were pulled down with the weight of more fish than I’d ever seen in one spot. Then, as we pulled them back into the boat, more fish flew out of the water. It’s like they were dying to get into our nets, our boats, our stomachs! I could practically hear them crying, “Take me! Take me!”

What on earth? Where were these fish just minutes before? How did that guy know they’d be here? And how were we going to haul them onto shore by ourselves?

For the past several hours, we’d been thankful the whole crew hadn’t come with us to witness yet another dismal failure. We’d been dreading the walk home, the moment they saw our faces and knew our trip had been a waste of time. Now we couldn’t wait to run home, tell them about our haul and get their help bringing it in!

As I was tallying up what we’d surely earn by selling these crazy fish, though, John was thinking about something else entirely. We stood in the boat, blinking and shaking our heads in wonder, and John spoke up: “It is the Lord!”

The Lord! Of course it was the Lord! Why didn’t we notice that?

We rushed back to shore and met Him on the beach. One campfire and fish fry later, our hearts and stomachs were full once again.

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You know what I find most shocking about this story? It’s not the crazy amount of fish that were caught, it’s not that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, and it’s not that Peter jumped into the nasty sea water and doggy paddled his way to the Lord. What I find hardest to believe is that the disciples, not knowing the man who spoke to them was Jesus Christ, threw their nets into the water on the other side of their boat!

Why bother? They’d been at it all night. They were fishermen by trade who knew a thing or two about fishing. They knew that, for whatever reason, the fish just weren’t biting (or jumping, as the case may be) that night.

And yet they tried again.

In recent days, they’d been devastated, disillusioned and depressed. Their world had been rocked, and they were drifting about as aimlessly as their fishing boat. Did they really think one more try would make a difference?

They must have. Somewhere, probably buried deep inside, they held onto a glimmer of hope. Hope that the worst possible outcome wasn’t guaranteed for every single situation. Hope that the world wasn’t ending. Hope that everything would be okay.

And somehow, even though they were bone-tired and heart-tired, they reached down, grabbed that tiny string of hope and pulled. They heaved their nets over to the other side of the boat, begging to be proved wrong, desperate for something to go right.

Have you ever felt that way? I have.

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Though I pride myself on being a positive, optimistic person, a more careful examination of my heart reveals my realistic, practical, do-you-really-think-it’s-going-to-work-this-time side. From career paths to friendships, from family relationships to ministry opportunities, I refuse to allow myself to give up and insist that the next time will be the right time. Over and over again, even when I still feel the sting from my latest failed attempt, I push myself into trying just one more time.

But even though I can make myself keep going physically and mentally, I haven’t been as successful convincing my heart to keep trying.

It took me a while to recognize how defeatist my attitude had become. Though I said all the right words [“Maybe this time!” “I can’t wait to see if this one works out!” “I just know this year will be the year . . .”], my heart had actually become hard. In an effort to protect myself from more pain, more disappointment, more rejection, I became an expert in creating backup plans and attempting things without ever imagining they would work.

It seemed like a smarter way to live, this standing outside the fire, but it really wasn’t. Because holding back, for me, is the opposite of living. Holding back is really just a way of keeping myself in a holding pattern. And it turns out that reaching for that sliver of hope – and then holding onto that – is actually the key to living fully.

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life, and I’m starting to remember that abundant life is only possible when I let go of the heart I’ve wrapped up and held onto so tightly. How else can He fill me up? How else can He fill up my nets?

Imagine the real fishermen, keeping their nets inside the boat because if you don’t try, you can’t fail. Given what we know about the outcome of that final toss, that seems ridiculous. But am I any different by not allowing my heart to truly hope for goodness, for blessing, for life? If I’m holding onto my nets and my heart, believing that’s the only way I won’t get hurt, He simply can’t fill them up.

I am facing a lot of possibilities in my life today. And most of them feel like just another round of the attempts I’ve made a hundred times before. I’ve tried this so many times, I find myself thinking. What makes this time any different?

Hope. Hope is what will make this time different. And maybe it’s not this time that brings earthly blessings, human relief or personal success, though it might be the next time or the time after that. Instead, what I’m learning is that it’s not the result of the fishing trip that is the point. No, the point of this part of my journey is the hoping. With that hope, I’ll find the abundant life that Jesus promises.

[I’m just hoping that it doesn’t involve any literal fish. That would be one metaphor taken too far!]

Do you find it hard to hope? What are you hoping for today?

Psst . . . if you like the photos in this post, you should visit Dawn Camp Photography. My sweet, talented friend is now offering prints and canvases of her gorgeous photography!

Comments

  1. This post is amazing. Really. It hit me square between the eyes. I don’t know what you’ve been fishing for, but I’m praying for you as God urges you to cast your nets once again. You’ve really encouraged me today, because I’ve been ready to admit defeat and quit casting. Thanks, Mary. :)

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thank you so much, Melissa. I’m praying for you, too. Cast those nets one more time…

  2. Oh, Mary…I saw Melissa’s FB link and made sure to see what she was talking about. This might well be my favorite piece I’ve read from you. I hear your heart and I can sense the Lord working a fresh work in you!

    How beautiful….

    Hope IS the very best thing; and I’m thankful we know the origin of that singular hope.

    Love you.

    • chelleybutton says:

      “I’m thankful we know the origin of that singular hope.” — I like that! And me too! :) (clarification: I don’t mean that I like me too but that I’m thankful too:)

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      “Hope is the very best thing” – isn’t it, though? LOVE THAT. (And love you, too!!!)

  3. You just keep hoping and hanging in there, girlfriend. Love you! Thanks for the plug. :)

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Love you, too, Dawn! And I owed you a plug since I used your gorgeous photos without asking! :)

  4. Love this, Mary! Especially this line: “If I’m holding onto my nets and my heart, believing that’s the only way I won’t get hurt, He simply can’t fill them up.”

    Here’s to seeing how God will fill up our nets!

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thanks, Leigh. I just know He’s going to fill them up big time! :)

  5. Oh, Mary! This is so good. The story was excellent and the heart-talk at the end even better. Yes! We hold onto our “life” and God can’t fill it up!

    I know God has 157+ fish ready for your nets!
    a

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Thank you – and I love that. My net is ready for 157+ fish! :)

  6. chelleybutton says:

    I like this post, but I’m not really sure exactly how to comment! I think it’s a complicated thing, this hope thing. But I guess you said that, so you can probably understand my comments/thoughts. :) Anyway, I just can relate. Being tempted to give up hope and yet… still having a glimmer there too. But I think the Bible’s right: faith as small as a mustard seed CAN move mountains! So I guess that’s all we need (to start out with). God is good. :)

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      I like how you put that – giving up hope IS a temptation, and we should resist it!

  7. Katherine says:

    I like this post! You reminded me of why I am here: I have hope, and that hope is in the truth that Jesus Christ is risen!!! I feel I have a defeatist attitude but God is transforming that. He is the perfecter of our faith. When we give Him our hearts, He promises to take good care of us and to pour His love and grace into us. Holy Spirit, move in the hearts and lives of all these beautiful children of God :) Guide us every moment of every day!

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      “He is the perfecter of our faith.” I love that, Katherine. Thank you.

  8. Oh Mary! This post? A work of art in words and imagery I won’t soon forget. Love it and love you!

  9. Thank you for your “take” on this story! :) I really enjoyed it.

    My favorite part of this encounter is Jesus meeting Peter over the campfire – a fire much like the one Peter had denied him over just days before. Jesus is such a redeemer – THE Redeemer! He redeemed their hope. He redeemed Peter’s betrayal and mistrust. He is such a loving Savior!

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Oooooh, I love that point about Peter! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God redeems so much, so that’s a great insight into this story!

  10. Thanks! I needed that! :) I few months ago I found myself telling a friend that ‘I have total faith in God that He will do ‘this’ but I don’t dare hope it will happen.’ Then God quietly pointed out that ‘Faith is the substince of things hoped for – the evidence of things not yet seen!’ what felt like two seperate things were actually totally and completely linked! God hasn’t done it ….yet….but I’m still hoping and praying and believing and living!!! AMEN!!!

  11. Kimberly says:

    Such a great post Mary!!!
    Is it wrong that my head supplied “Here Fishy-fishy-fishy!” :)

    Praying for you as you cast your nets!

  12. “the point of this part of my journey is the hoping”

    Having spent the last decade fervently praying and seeing no answers or results, I became hope-deferred and heart sick. I didn’t want to pray anymore, I didn’t want to hope anymore. I just wanted to cut my losses, accept reality and move on.
    Long periods of suffering & pain had caused me to disconnect and shut down. This past January a beautiful “spiritual mama” prayed over me that my spirit would wake up and come alive again. I actually felt the tangible presence of God in my body.
    A few months later, still no answers or results, I felt like I was slipping back into despair. Out of nowhere another Godly woman ministered a word of knowledge, telling me that my prayers had not been in vain. I wept and wept. The challenge was to even try to believe that this was true!

    In our fast-paced, performance-based society we get discouraged if we don’t see something happening right away. God has brought me back to the story of Abraham & Sarah over and over… “Against all hope, in hope he (Abraham) believed God’s promise” (hebrews)

    Your words rang true deep inside my heart… this part of the journey is not about results, answers, or promises manifested. Its about continuing to hope – against all odds. For in the hope is where I am fully alive, engaged & in the moment.

    thank you ever so much for this precious reminder,
    xo

    • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect says:

      Natalie, thank you so much for sharing your heart here. I’m glad my post spoke to you but even more glad God has continued pursuing you with hope!

  13. Hi Mary,
    Such a creative treatment of scripture putting us right on the boat! I loved it. Well written, well edited.

    Can I just say that this is my first time here and wow, I love love love the title of your blog. Yup, I’m trying desperately to give up on perfect too…

    Thanks for your hard work, vulnerability and creativity.

  14. What do I hope for? My marriage to keep growing in grace, 22 years down, God knows how many to go. My daughter to keep growing in godliness, loving those around her, and learning some of the normal school stuff and music/art stuff too(!). My various dreams to be sorted by God who knows whether they are realistic, and when the timing will be right, and fulfilled at their proper times. Hoping to trust in him for tomorrow, his strengths to cover my weaknesses.

    I wasn’t going to write a comment but the last one, that mentioned your blog name, gave me the reason to. I think it was in Holley Gerth’s book, You’re Already Amazing, that she points to a verse in Hebrews, “he has already made perfect those who are being made holy.” I’m being lazy and not looking up the reference since I am sitting in the dark while my daughter falls asleep. It’s a lovely moment. But I’ve thought back on that time and again. We have Christ’s perfection so we already win. But we are working out the holy part as he teaches, supplies, trains, etc. (for some reason that takes the pressure off me)

    Thanking God for you!