This reflection has been prompted by Luke 5:1-11.
I suspect very few people knew it then, but in the last two years that I was running a school, I was also running on empty. For several reasons, I found myself precariously on the brink of a burnout. I had worked too hard and cared too little for my well-being–a dangerous but all too common formula for self-endangerment.
One thing I recall most about those days was this sense of an all-pervasive darkness. You wake up each day joyless and wish each day away, hoping you could just stay there in bed and hide away from the world. But of course you eventually force yourself to get up because that’s what you need to do and you go about your day, but you have to do all you can to fend off the growing cynicism inside and to protect others from being damaged by it. You keep thinking–and you keep wanting to say–things like: “Really? Been there, done that. What’s the point?”
More than anything else, it was this helplessness and hopelessness that terrified me the most. It was completely irrational, but there were many times I simply wanted to give up.
So today, when I read about Simon Peter’s half-hearted protest when our Lord asks him to go out fishing again after an entire night of hard work out at sea, I totally get what the fisherman means and feels.
“Master,” he said wearily to Jesus, “we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.”
It doesn’t take much to hear what he might have really meant: “Really? Been there done that! What’s the point?”
Simon Peter standing there with his empty net is the perfect poster boy for burnout and all the hopelessness and resignation it brings.
But it doesn’t end there, thankfully. We don’t know how quickly–or how long–it took him, but the professional fisherman finally decided to take the advice of the carpenter: “At your command I will lower the net.”
He and his fellow fishermen were, of course, rewarded with a miraculous catch of fish. But I’d like to think Peter’s response to the Lord is the response asked of us whenever we find ourselves on life’s stranded shores, with empty nets and empty boats, empty-handed and heart-emptied: Just keep showing up for the day, resisting that urge to give up and choosing instead to trust in the Lord. Choose hope.
My favorite spiritual author, Anne Lamott, has this to say about hope: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”