Try again. Sun Feb 10, 2019
A TED Talk about luck came across my Facebook newsfeed a while back that stuck with me. It’s by Dr. Tina Seelig, professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford University. In the Talk, she offers the typical definition of luck as “success or failure apparently caused by chance.” The operative word, she goes on to say, is “apparently,” because we rarely see all the levers that come into play to make people lucky. Having watched for a long time, however, she notes that luck is rarely a lightening strike, isolated and dramatic. “Luck is much more like the wind,” Dr. Seelig describes, “blowing constantly. Sometimes it’s calm, and sometimes it blows in gusts, and sometimes it comes from directions that you didn’t even imagine. So,” she asks, “how do you catch the winds of luck? It’s easy but it’s not obvious.”
Dr. Seelig then details three things anyone can do to build a sail to catch the winds of luck. They are about changing your relationship with yourself, with other people and with ideas through some simple practices. The first, changing your relationship with yourself, is about being willing to take small risks that gets one out of one’s comfort zone. It’s something children can teach us, because they do it all the time. Going from being a person who can’t talk to one who can, for instance, means taking the risk of trying out some words. The same goes for learning to walk, or to ride a bike, or pretty much anything else. But, Seelig contends, as adults, we rarely do it: “We sort of lock down our sense of who we are,” she says, “and don’t stretch anymore.” If, however, we take small risks that expand our comfort zone, we might just catch a lucky breeze.
Today Jesus instructs Simon Peter: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus had borrowed Simon’s boat to teach those gathered along the lakeshore, including the fishermen busy cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing. It’s the wrong time of day to head out fishing. Besides which, imagine how tired and discouraged they must feel with little to no fish to bring home for supper. Imagine how much in need of a hot shower, a decent meal, a nap. And yet still Jesus commands: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Really, Jesus?!? “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” Simon protests. Still Jesus commands: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It sounds more annoying than risky at first glance… just try again…
In Jesus’ time, water, especially deep water, was a symbol of chaos and a source of fear. God’s first act of creation was to bring order and light to the watery chaos, the face of the deep. Torrents of rain brought on a flood that returned creation to that state of watery chaos for a time. One of Jesus’ miracles is to calm stormy waters that threatened to destroy again. The great and fearful sea monster Leviathan resides in the deep. There is much to fear out in the deep water. And so perhaps the night before, perhaps even regularly, Simon and his compatriots didn’t go far enough from shore, into the deep water, to find the fish. Perhaps the edge of their comfort zone was all they knew and a harder boundary than they realized. How could they know that more or different fish might be out there just waiting for their nets, past the edge of the familiar, safer, shallower water? What surprising abundance might be waiting for you past the edge of your comfort zone? What new opportunity might there be for us together as St. Andrew’s?
Risk-taking comes in many forms. Dr. Seelig describes having her students fill out a kind of “risk-o-meter” to help them understand their risk tolerance in various areas. Risk-taking is not binary, like you do it or you don’t, but rather there are all kinds of possibilities. There are intellectual risks, physical risks, financial risks, social risks, emotional risks, ethical risks and political risks… and we all have comfort zones of varying sizes in various areas. A risk self-assessment can help illuminate for ourselves what areas we might want to try taking a little risk… maybe it’s exploring a new idea or working to solve an entrenched problem; maybe it’s telling someone how we feel about them; maybe it’s trying a new physical activity; maybe it’s initiating a conversation with a stranger… maybe it’s putting out into the deep water… the list of possibilities is endless. Taking even small risks, outside our comfort zone, begins to build a sail to catch the winds of luck. What small risk could you take this week that might help you catch luck?
“We have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” Simon responds. We can understand his first reaction of resistance. We can understand his exhaustion and his disappointment. Been there, done that. We’ve tried. It didn’t work. And we can understand not knowing that we stopped too soon. When we hit some rougher water; when we came face to face with our fear of the deep and turned back, we barely even noticed our internal limitation. “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” We tried. We failed. “Yet,” Simon goes on, “if you say so, I will let down the nets.” I will do as you say. I will find the courage to try again. I will take the risk of pushing out into the deeper water.
“If you say so, I will let down the nets.” It’s one of the most faithful, and the most obedient, statements in scriptures. Not to mention hopeful, though maybe he didn’t even feel that. Letting down the nets, out in the deep water, at the wrong time of day, when all you want is a meal, a shower and a nap… Simon acts with great obedience. Simon takes a risk to go beyond. His action is hopeful even if his spirit isn’t. What would such obedience and hope in action look like in your life? What could it look like here at St. Andrew’s? “If you say so, I will let down the nets.”
“When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink…” into the deep. Successful fishing… the grace of abundance… only led to another problem. The deep water can still get them. Fear raises its head once more. Chaos is again at hand… a different kind of chaos, perhaps, but uncomfortable, fearful chaos none the less. Maybe it was better to fail. It is the best, if not the only, path to the safety and security of predictability. Failure is the best, if not the only, way to stay well within the bounds of our comfort zone. Because the deep water never ceases to be risky. It may even hold risk we can’t anticipate from the safety of the shore or the shallow water. It is easy to fail. It’s hard to try again and risk success.
“They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break… and their boats began to sink.” And so Simon comes up with another excuse: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinner!” I couldn’t possibly follow your risky, nonsensical call to discipleship. I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs… no matter the abundant catch of fish. Your grace is threatening to sink us. “Go away from me, I am a sinner.” And Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s repentance not with forgiveness as we might expect. Nor does Jesus relent: “Oh, I forgot! You’re right… of course you aren’t good enough. What was I thinking?” No. Instead, Jesus responds to Peter’s repentance with reassurance in his continued call: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” No excuses.
Today Jesus calls us to push out into the deep water and let down the nets. Jesus calls us to take a risk, even a small one, and trust that we will be okay. We might even catch some luck. We might even be better than okay… maybe trying one more time, with just a little more risk, will bring an abundance of life, more than we could ask or imagine. Previous failure of any kind is no excuse. In fact, maybe it’s just what we needed to grow, to get to this point. As Samuel Beckett famously wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Maybe God want us to fail better. To fail bigger. To push out just a little further, into deeper water, and let down the nets. Who knows? Maybe that one little risk will lead to an abundance of fish… of peace, of joy, of love, of life. “Do not be afraid…” Jesus calls. Just try again.