We're on a night train to Paris – a marathon journey that starts in Venice, the City of Bridges, stops at a handful of Italian centers – Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Milan – before heading into the Alps and ending, almost 14 hours later, in the heart of Paris, the City of Lights.
Our 12 days in Italy have been amazing – from the spectacular coastline of southern Italy, to the lush vineyards of Tuscany, to the magic of Venice's canals and gondoliers.
Best of all, Cheryl and I celebrated 27 years of marriage today. We began with breakfast on the Grand Canal of Venice and finished in a dining car somewhere between Padua and Milan. In between, we threaded through a maze of Venetian streets and wandered in and out of shops of handcrafted glassworks and Italian leather and silk.
I'm a blessed man, to walk with Cheryl by my side these past three decades – it's been that long if you count our courtship. Every year gets better – we get more playful, more thoughtful, less reactive. We value the other more deeply. I think we are more hopeful. We've been through a lot – glories and messes, breakthroughs and let downs, tragedies and windfalls. Such things either season you or shrivel you. Mostly, I'd say, it's seasoned us.
It's not that we don't have our episodes – crankiness, testiness, wondering when this person will finally fully get with the program. But those moments get further apart and shorter in duration. And what more and more rises to the surface is deep abiding thankfulness, to God and for each other.
I'm on a night train to Paris, and think I'm the luckiest man alive.
To the lady of my life, all my love, always.
Sometimes the only motivation for doing anything is that Jesus says so. Otherwise, we’re bankrupt. We simply can’t muster up the vision or energy to try one more time, to care for one more second. The only resolve we can make is to quit. In our eyes, this thing – this ministry, this marriage, this family, this friendship, this job – has come to a shuddering halt. It is over. It is dead. It is a black hole. All our efforts to change it have failed.
It’s those times when all that can keep us keeping on is that Jesus says so.
Luke records this encounter:
Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:4-5).
But because you say so. That moment can stand for so many of our own: Master, I’ve worked hard all night, all week, all year, all this decade, and haven’t caught a thing. I’ve accomplished zip. My spouse is still unkind. My finances are still a mess. My friendships are still shallow. My faith is still flimsy. My sobriety is still sketchy.
Master, this isn’t working.
And everything in us wants to walk away.
Except Jesus standing there, looking at us with those eyes. And he says, “Try one more time.”
Weariness floods us. Frustration grips us. Anger overwhelms us. Instantly in our mind, rising quickly to our lips, is bitter complaint: “Are you kidding? Do you know how hard I’ve tried? Why would you treat me this way? Why would you even ask?”
But he just keeps standing there, looking.
“Alright. Alright. Okay. This is useless. This is futile. But because you say so, I will.”
You know how this story goes: suddenly, the effort is not futile. At long last, and all at once, letting down the nets accomplishes what it’s supposed to. Effort produces results, abundantly:
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.
So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink (Luke 5:6-7)
Now they’ve got good problems to deal with – breaking nets, sinking boats, more work to do than hands to help; success has its own set of complications.
But they’d never have experienced that success except, against all instinct, they did what Jesus said.
Have you given up on something? Maybe you’ve invested heroic, repeated effort, but have nothing to show for it. Does the thought of trying again fill you with weariness? Does it just seem easier to admit defeat and move on?
But what if Jesus is asking you to try again? Try to make this marriage work one more time. Try to reconcile with your father one more time. Try to connect with your daughter one more time. Try trusting one more time. Try forgiving one more time?
Because he says so, will you? What if this is the time the nets actually fill?