Monday, April 14, 2008

Catfish in the Tank

There’s a story about a fishing company that deep sea fished for restaurant owners off the east coast. Before the ship would return home, the live fish caught and dropped into a holding tank were going to the bottom of the tank and dying. But one day a sea catfish accidentally got in the tank. Those are trash fish, not good for anything. But the captain noticed that with that catfish in the tank, when the other fish would grow lethargic, the catfish, seeing them as easy dinner, would nibble on them. Not wanting to be eaten alive, the fish would swim away. When they docked, the catch that day was fully alive. The catfish was what was causing the fish to stay alive. So the captain started capturing catfish and placing one in the tank so that his fish would arrive to shore alive.

Last fall I had what some might call a mountaintop experience. I had immersed myself in Bible study, digging more deeply than I’ve ever dug. I’ve had other seasons where my Bible study reaped high results. But following that season I felt closer to God than I’ve ever felt. Never had my path felt more sure. I could see what was ahead, what I was supposed to do next. I understood some things about God that rang so true, I thought I was getting at least a taste of what it was like to be a spiritual giant. I also knew that while I couldn’t live on the “mountain” forever, that what I would take back down would have lasting benefit that would translate into a transformative experience. It was like cycling to the top of a hill and then finally enjoying the ride coasting all the way down.

Then I ascended back into what Paul calls “this body of death.” I had to return to life as a mortal. It wasn’t long until life changes as well as disappointments became a weight on top of me.

When we ascend into a valley, we can question our faith. We start to wonder if the mountaintop was real because the reality of the valley is so heavy. But there is a lot going on besides what you’re feeling at the time. The weights you’re carrying, that seemingly have been thrown on your shoulders without your permission, are helping you build endurance. Perhaps you’ve been complacent in your decisions, believing that whether you choose A or B, neither is a bad choice. But in the valley, you see clearly the truth behind your decisions as well as your indifference—you weren’t made for mediocrity. Just lifting your feet and allowing life to carry you along can take you over a cliff. So these wake up calls alert you to the fact that the choices you make are a privilege and a responsibility. This “body of death” carries within it the capacity to make us into beings that can accomplish much more than daily life implies we might accomplish.

The catfish in our tank is a reminder that we can’t just go to the bottom of life and die. God wants us to arrive home having lived life on earth fully alive.