Goin Fishin

“Sometimes you can just hop
in the back of someone’s cab
and tell them what they’re
supposed to do. Other times,
you have to let them look out
at the ocean for a while.”

       – Jacob (LOST S6 / The Lighthouse)

Life doesn’t always flow at the same pace. If it did, I’m sure we’d all miss the ups, downs and sharp last minute curves. It’s the surprises that keep us on our toes. Likewise, it’s the redactions in our own personal storyline and the blank pages of our narrative that keep us searching for answers.

It’s probably best that everything doesn’t stop us in our tracks; we’d all be a neurotic mess if that were the case. It’s a stroke of good fortune that the perilous peaks and treacherous chasms are mixed with sprawling meadows of peace and valleys of serenity. If we didn’t have a healthy dose of mundane filling the gaps, burnout would have hit us somewhere between 9th grade Civics and the initial sessions of Spanish-1 the following year.

But alas, there are times when the needle is pushed a notch or two beyond “head scratcher” status. Logic abandons our thoughts; understanding is lacking. The need to process remains, but the pieces of the puzzle are lying face down and scattered in every corner. In these times, “staring out at the ocean” can be excellent therapy.

It’s during such moments that I flash back to a story recorded in The Bible by a disciple named John. In the closing pages of his gospel account (chapters 20 and 21) John relates some events that transpired shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

At the end of chapter 20 John tells his readers of conversation between the disciples and a man named Thomas. So devoted was Thomas, that when other disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going to Judea for fear that He (Jesus) and they (whoever was in his company at the time) would be stoned to death by the Jews (John chapter 11); Thomas spoke up and said, “Eh. . . Let’s go die with him.”

Apparently, this same boisterous individual was so emotionally devastated by the death of Christ that he was beyond consolation. Many of the disciples had recently seen and talked with the risen Christ and they excitedly told Thomas, hoping to lift his spirits, but, no amount of eye-witness testimony could bring Thomas around. He remained stuck in his funk, so to speak, and even went so far as to say that until he could see and touch, he couldn’t believe. Unfortunately, this seems to be the one thing for which Thomas is remembered.

The story concludes with Christ miraculously appearing physically to console Thomas. Thomas wants to see and touch. Thomas gets to see and touch and Thomas’s doubts, fears and confusion dissolve.

On the heels of this, John relates a story about another outspoken disciple named Peter. He had seen and talked with the risen Christ before the episode with Thomas, but he’s still trying to figure things out at bit. Finally, he breaks from the extended meeting of the minds and announces, “I’m going fishing!”

Although the timing seems odd, a few of the disciples, including Thomas, decide they want to go fishing with him and they all head to the marina. Seven men in a boat, fish through the night but catch nadda. Let me repeat: seven experienced fishermen head to the docks, launch their Boston Whaler, and come up empty. It’s a pretty brutal night fishing wise and breakfast is looking like McEggwiches from the drive-thru.

Then this guy calls out from the shore line using the international fisherman’s greeting, “You guys catching anything?”

No angler with an ounce of self-esteem wants to answer that question with, “No,” but apparently some newbie in the group coughs up the seasoned angler’s biggest fur ball, “The coolers are empty boss!”

Then, the guy on the beach gives advice. Seriously?!? The last thing you ever do when talking to someone who’s been fishing for more than 30 minutes without putting a fish in the bucket is offer tips.


Don’t Give Advice!!! Tell Mr. Ain’t-Caught-Nuthin-All-Day that you’ve talked with 3 to 5 other people up and down the beach and they’re not catching fish either.

Back to our story, where the guy walking the beach offers up this insightful wisdom, “Maybe you should fish on the other side of the boat.”

I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of our experienced group, but for some reason they gave it a shot and… Jackpot!

It was at this point that one of crew recognizes the guy on the beach as Jesus and relays the message to Peter. Peter jumps out of the boat and wades to shore, where he and Christ engage in conversation around an early morning fire and some roasted fish. Finally, Peter gets some answers, but walks away with a few more questions as well.

One questioning person (Thomas) gets clear answers and walks away knowing where to go, who to see, what to do and when to do it. Another questioning person (Peter) finds a bread crumb followed by another, then another. There’s just enough to keep him on the path… to keep him navigating his way painfully through the maze… to keep him hungry for answers.

It seems a bit unfair, but sometimes finding our own compass bearing is the only way for us to become strong enough to walk the path, once we discover where it leads and Peter’s road ahead was certainly not for the faint of heart.

Sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends; sometimes the hurt is so deep that even the very best attempts at encouragement from our friends ring hollow. On those days it might be best to just go fishing. Time away can bring clarity and staring out at the ocean can open fresh cracks for the light to get through. The fog may seem as if it is only shifting and settling into new pockets, but rest assured, it will lift.

“There’s an old Chinese saying that I believe is so true.
It goes like this: ‘The temptation to quit will be greatest
just before you are about to succeed.’”

                  – Bob Parsons, Executive Chairman & Founder of GoDaddy.com

A personal note –

This piece was originally written about 5 years ago. Forgive me for not knowing the exact date and time, but I rarely date my writing and the electronic files tend to update to the last time it was revised (which for this piece was the spring of 2012). When I wrote the piece, I had a lot more questions in my life than answers. In essence, I wanted someone to jump in the back of my cab and hand me a guitar case (you’d have to watch season 6 of LOST to get that reference, I suppose), but I found myself sitting on the shoreline, staring out at the sea.

There’s parts of that biblical story that gets told in John 21 that have always left me wondering. The “cast your net on the other side,” isn’t only a example. I’ve also wondered why John tells us that they caught 153 fish (there is a very specific reason for that number) and why Jesus later questions Peter’s love, not once, but 3 times, before giving him the directive to “feed my sheep.”  There’s a very good reason for that awkward conversation as well.

The answers to these questions and others didn’t become apparent all at once. The answers to certain experiences in life’s journey took time to emerge as well. There are still days when I wish someone would just jump in the back of the cab and hand me a guitar case, but along the way, I’m learning to appreciate the ocean view.

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