Shortly after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared on the beach while his friends were out fishing. They had caught nothing. When Jesus tells them to try a new way and they catch a netful, John realizes that the man on shore is Christ. He tells Peter, and what does Peter do? He leaps.
This is why I can’t help but love the character of St. Peter. He had just betrayed Jesus and must have been reeling from that fact, but when John tells him it’s Jesus on the shore, he can’t resist getting to the Lord as quickly as possible. There’s something almost romantic about the way Peter leaps from the boat. Fully clothed and drenched, Peter swims to shore. On the sand, his dripping garments testify to his grand gesture of devotion.
Inside me — a new mother squeezing in prayer time just before bed — something yearns to make such a gesture. I’m a cradle Catholic, so I’ve heard the incredible stories of saints who have levitated, cheated death and sung God’s praises at their martyrdom. These saintly deeds strike me with wonder but also leave me a bit shaken, because none of these are subtle moments; they’re epic.
Now, more than ever, my life consists of daily tasks. What I accomplish this morning will be undone this afternoon for me to accomplish yet again in turn. Changing diapers and cooking and cleaning up after littles does not feel like progress. The growth in my child is awe-striking and humbling from month to month, though also imperceptible from hour to hour. In the midst of this wonderful vocation, my life feels anything but epic. As for my spiritual life? Same thing.
Though consistent, my prayer time is short. In the world, I’m doing little to nothing “of note” in service to the community. In short, unlike Peter, my clothes are fully dry. The demands on my life are such that I must first tend to my family, and often that is all-day work with little time for other things. For a while as I adjusted to this new life as a mother, this caused me some distress.
After all, didn’t it please our Lord to see the grand gesture Peter made for him?
Probably so. And yet, though the leap may have pleased him, I can almost hear Jesus laughing in the passage in John. “You forgot the fish,” I imagine him saying. “I put all those fish in your net. They were for breakfast!” In Scripture, Jesus says, “Bring some of the fish you just caught” (Jn 21:10).
With these words, I sigh relief.
Jesus didn’t — and doesn’t, necessarily — ask for a grand gesture of devotion. Rather, above all else he wants to know, “Do you love me?” and to fulfill the practical tasks he places in our lives.
Peter runs back to the boat — which his friends are bringing into shore (the normal way) — and gets some fish. They share the fish together over the fire Jesus had built.
Fishing is not epic. At least, not for Peter. It was his job all his life, and the job of his father and probably his father before him. To Peter, “bringing the fish” probably felt as epic as changing diapers feels to me. But two things stand out:
First, the fish were a gift, even a miracle. Peter and his friends were fishing experts, and Jesus gave them the fish and asked for only their obedience to receive the fruit of his power. Peter didn’t need to do the epic thing; Jesus had already done that by putting the fish in Peter’s net.
Secondly, the fish were a means to spend time together. Peter had thought that the best way to maximize his “Jesus time” was to leap from the boat. But what would he say when he reached Christ? What words could possibly make up for his grievous betrayal? Instead, Jesus planned a relaxed way to be together. Eating breakfast was communal. It was slow, and it made space for Jesus and Peter to have the conversation they needed to have (cf. Jn 21:15-19).
The seemingly small tasks given to me each day are a result of circumstances that God has put in my life. My child is a gift — a miracle whom I could not have invented, manufactured or even imagined even if I had a thousand years to do so. Responding to my circumstances, then — when offered to God — is a way for me to spend time with him.
“God lives among the pots and pans,” said St. Teresa of Avila, and so he does. In the diaper stack, the wet laundry and face of the nursing child, he is there. In the office paperwork or the evening homework, he is there. When I remember this, in a way, we share breakfast. These tasks may not feel epic, but that is not the point. The point — epic or not — is to spend time together and to embrace the Lord in the life he’s given.
Jesus is waiting on shore. He has built the fire for cooking; it is ready.
So, water the plants, vacuum the carpet. Run the dishwasher, read a board book, kiss a boo-boo.
Bring the fish.