Staying Afloat


There was another fisherman, a long time ago, who actually walked on the water. Is there a lesson here?

Staying Afloat

The brightest part of the flame of the pine logs had mellowed into glowing coals as Rob stared into the fire. The heat was strong enough to scorch his face and shins, yet the mountain air chilled his back and shoulders. His dad was sitting on a large rock on the other side of the fire, but neither had spoken for some time. Rob was lost in memories of many other times like this and wondering when the next opportunity would come, if ever.

Every year for six years, Rob and his dad had spent at least one week in the summer on a camping and fishing trip. Last year they had boated to the far end of Yellowstone Lake and camped with the bears. It would have been great to go there again, but Rob wanted to return to the first spot his dad had taken him when he was 12 years old.

As they parked the car and began their hike up the trail, the early morning sky was just beginning to show signs of light. The packs were heavy because of a few extras which would make the camp a little more comfortable. Still, they were experienced enough to know what they could and couldn’t do without. The ten-and-a-half mile hike along a cold rushing mountain stream brought them finally to a small lake nestled in a valley cradled at the edge of the timberline of the upper curvature of the mountain.

The natural beauty was breathtaking and the fishing was superb, but as the hypnotic effect of the glowing coals relaxed strained and tired muscles, Rob meditated on the real reason he wanted to come to this spot. At about this same time of night at a similar fire in the same fire pit six years before, he had asked his father, “Dad, in the celestial kingdom will we be able to go fishing together?”

In just a few words of profound wisdom, his father had responded, “If it is still important to you, then I’m sure it will be possible.”

Over those six years, Rob had recognized some changes in himself. Although these times with his father continued to be important and he was always ready to go when someone said “fishing,” he had learned that fishing was for relaxation and not really a key desire of his heart. In institute classes during his first year of college, a strengthened testimony of the gospel began burning within him and he knew that as soon as possible after his 19th birthday he needed to be leaving on a mission. The words were clear in his mind and seemed to ring out within his soul: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who … is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13). Nevertheless there were some fears, down deep inside of him, about his ability to do the work.

Time has a way of rearranging priorities. Rob was very aware of that, and sensing the end of an era, he had wanted to come back to this place.

His dad spoke, breaking the silence of the night. “The evening fishing was really something, wasn’t it, son?”

“Yeah,” responded Rob instantly. “I never believed that I would be catching two fish at a time. But when I tied the second gray hackle yellow on the line, I had to keep my hands inside the float to keep the fish from getting it before the knot was finished. It was like being able to walk on water and get right out there where the fish were biting.”

With a slight chuckle, his dad commented, “Now you sound like the Apostle Peter. You must have had a lot of faith that those fish were going to give you the thrill of a lifetime.”

Rob didn’t speak for some time and the still of the night began to inch its way back around the edges of the glow of the campfire which silhouetted the forms of the father and son.

“Dad?” Rob’s voice was full of question.

“Yes?”

“Tell me about Peter. How did he walk on water?”

There was a moment of silence before his dad began. “The scriptures say Jesus had sent his disciples ahead of him by ship and he had gone up on a mountain to pray. Apparently the winds were contrary and the water was in high waves. The ship wasn’t making much progress. Sometime between three and six o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. Logically they were terrified until Jesus said, ‘Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.’

“Then Peter cried out, ‘Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.’ And Jesus simply replied, ‘Come.’

“Rob, this is an important point. When God commands, anything is possible. Remember when Nephi was building the ship and he needed to rebuke his brothers for ridiculing him? He said that if God commanded him to do all things, he could do them. If God commanded him to turn water to earth, he could do it. Miracles are accomplished at the command of the Lord or through the direction of the Holy Ghost. The Savior had said to Peter, ‘Come.’ At that command, Peter stepped out of the ship and began to walk on the surface of the water as if it were dry ground. But, in fact, it was a storm-tossed sea. Perhaps Peter, who had spent much of his life upon the sea, said to himself, This can’t be, and immediately he began to sink.

“The Savior stretched forth his hand, caught him and then said, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ (See Matt. 14:22–33.)

“In the School of the Prophets in the early days of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, it was taught that where doubt is, faith has no power. The moment Peter doubted the possibility of what was happening to him, his faith lost its power to support him on the water. The scriptures don’t say that he had lost his faith in the Lord; so perhaps the doubt was in his own ability.

“Today you were supported in the water by an inner tube full of air and a support system that permitted you to sit there comfortably while you fished. If you had taken a knife and stabbed it into the inner tube, how long would you have stayed afloat?”

“Huh? With all that gear on, I’d sink like a rock. But, Dad, I understand that because a float is like a boat. It’s a device made for travel on water. But Peter … How did that work?”

“If you’ll get me a pot full of water, I’ll give you a demonstration that may help.”

In less than a minute, Rob had grabbed the largest cooking pot they had, gone to a small stream by the side of the camp, filled the pot with water, returned to the fire, and placed a few more logs on it to give better light. He knew he was about to receive some special instruction and he was ready.

In the meantime, his dad had placed a piece of steel wool and a small bottle of dishwashing soap on a flat rock near the fire. Rob couldn’t resist commenting with a smile, “Dad, we’ve already washed the dishes.”

Letting the one-liner slide by, his father began. “Without proper displacement, like in a ship, steel is not supposed to float. But watch this piece of steel wool as I place it on the surface of the water in the pot. It floats. You learned the reason why in physics. It is because of surface tension. The pressure of the molecules against one another on the surface of the water will support the steel fibers. If we break the surface tension, watch what happens. Let’s add just one small drop of dishwashing soap to the water. The surfactants, chemicals in the soap which break surface tension so dishwashing can be effective, break the surface tension below the steel wool and … look. Rapidly the steel wool now acts like steel should and sinks to the bottom of the pot.

“We don’t know if Peter’s faith strengthened the force of the surface tension of the water or if it made him lighter, or if some other force was at work. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the moment he began to doubt, the miraculous power of faith which permitted him to walk on water was broken and he sank, just like steel wool.

“Faith is not a simple subject, Rob. In general terms, our faith must have four parts. First of all we must have faith in our Heavenly Father, that he loves us and will bless us as we do his will. Then we must have faith in Jesus Christ and that through his atonement we can become clean and pure after proper repentance. How can we have his Spirit to be with us if we are not willing to take his name upon us, remember him always, and keep his commandments?

“Next, we must have faith in our leaders. If we doubt their counsel, it is like knifing our own inner tube or using a surfactant to break the surface tension under our feet. In the gospel, if we doubt the prophet, the General Authorities, or our local leaders, we sink like a rock.

Last, but not least, we must have faith in ourselves; in our own ability to receive guidance and revelation because we are abiding by the other aspects of faith. As a result, we can receive the assurance that we do know the will of God and are able to carry it out.

The Savior of all mankind said to Peter, ‘Come.’ Through the Spirit, it is as if he were saying to you, Rob, ‘Come. Trust in me. Serve a mission and I will bless you. Have faith in your Heavenly Father, in me and in the Atonement, in priesthood leaders and in yourself.’ When you do these things, then, if the Lord commands, you will have the power to do all things, including walking on water.”

Father and son sat quietly for some minutes watching the embers dim. The warmth Rob felt now was not from the fire. It came from within, and he felt sure and strong as the words formed in his mind: “Come. Be not afraid.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson