Fish and Loaves


Exactly three years ago today, when I was pregnant with our daughter, I spoke at a women-only event for our church. The event was an extension of a sermon series my husband had just completed, called DTR: Defining True Romance, and its purpose was to allow women to gather together and laugh, learn, and grow in our relationships with each other and our husbands. It was my one and only time ever speaking to our church family in any capacity.

By this point, twenty-two weeks in, the pregnancy hormones had fully overtaken my brain, so admittedly, I wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I was able to write a message that was personal to me to which I thought other women would relate. If you know me, it will come as no surprise that I chose to speak about enoughness, and I used the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 as my context of truth.

I’ll spare you the full details, but the bottom line was this: just like the little boy in the story, we aren’t asked to be enough. We are simply asked to offer what we have, be it our measly days-old fish and our crusty, humble loaves of bread.

Fish and loaves.

Fish and loaves.

Don’t try to be enough. Just offer your fish and loaves.

Let Jesus be the one to perform the miracle. He will take your fish and loaves, and He will do the multiplying. He’ll feed the thousands. He’ll send you home with a doggy bag. He is the God of abundance.

Not scarcity. Abundance.

Not lacking. More than enough.

After I spoke, I initially felt energized. The night was so enjoyable, and the attending women were so gracious towards me in their encouragement. The following day, however, I woke up to what felt like a run-for-your-life sprint as I was being chased down by, what I’ll call, the Four Horseman of the Self-Consciousness.

First, I heard the gallop of Embarrassment, who snickered at me, “I can’t believe you said, ‘Right?’ as frequent as you did.”

Then came the dash of Humiliation, who scoffed with, “You didn’t even have a proper closing to your talk. You just sort of shrugged and said you were finished.”

Next charged Guilt: “You could have fit the theme of DTR better, you know.”

And perhaps the most unbridled of all: Shame, whose haunting, rearing rhythm said to me, “Who do you think you are? You had no business speaking to a group of ladies like that.”

When feeling self-conscious, my ingrained instinct is to keep running from the horseman and their powerful steeds. Panic wells up in my chest and then creeps into my throat. My breathing soon turns into a hyperventilating gasping, leaving me no other option but to dart out of the way and hide. I watch the dust settle and listen for the patterned echoes of the horses’ gaits to slowly distance. Eventually, I attempt to lasso some positive thoughts and pull them in my direction, but it’s a futile attempt when I’m in hiding. So, this time, rather than just reach for thoughts that are true, I gathered up my vulnerabilities and saddled myself with the One who is Truth. Ever reliable, His calming voice confronted my inner thought.  “This self-consciousness is a sign of self-reliance. I asked for your fish and loaves, and you keep fishing and baking,” He said. “Just stop and come be with me.”

He had me hook, line and sinker; I was fishing and baking to give a good message to the women in our church, and that was just the beginning. I was also fishing and baking to make magic happen in the counseling room. Fishing and baking to be a great mom. Fishing and baking to be the best wife. And perhaps the worst of all, fishing and baking to be acceptable to God.

And He was telling me to stop.

At a certain time in my life, I’ll admit being told to stop fishing and baking would have felt like a suffocating sacrifice, an obligation towards obedience, an unwelcome interruption, or an urgent responsibility towards a commitment that stripped me of power. Even now, it is difficult to put down my fishing poll, relax the fists that furiously knead, to be still, and to let God. I’m a stubborn one; my mind gets so stuck on being told what to do that I fail to hear the promises that follow. I’m also a control fanatic, wired for fishing and baking. I’m afraid to bow out of the pursuit to be enough, even though I know it’s like trekking towards an oasis that doesn’t exist.

Since I logically know fishing and baking is no way to live, I’ve been drawing upon my childhood memories to help me stop. When I was a girl, my family used to go to Hilton Head every summer for weeks at a time. Several summers in a row, I met up with a friend from West Virginia, named Michelle. While we both had tanned skin and blonde hair, bleached from the sun, she had a southern scrappiness to her that complimented my Midwestern semi-sophistication. One day, on our usual trip to the South Beach marina, she made a deal with a local fisherman: if we caught enough mullet, he would take us out on his low-rise boat to feed the dolphins.

The deal was sealed with a handshake and a nod, and Michelle and I raced to the beach as fast as we could, lugging our buckets and cast-nets that hung off the salt-covered handlebars of our beach-trodden bikes. Using our mouths to cast the weighted nets and the arm muscles we’d earned by doing handstands on the beach to pull them back ashore, we filled our buckets with those slippery, silvery fish. I remember we giddily awaited the arrival of the fisherman and his voice carrying the words, “Leave your nets on the beach, and come on.” He rescued us from enduring more labor and invited us to enjoy what we’d longed for.

It’s a bit dumbfounding to think that I got on his boat with Michelle that day and several days to follow. I was a cautious child, now turned cautious adult, slow to trust and quite reserved in a first meeting. And yet, the prospect of being on the water, dangling those fish just inches above the glassy plane, was too great of an adventure. I couldn’t pass it up.

The ocean was everything, and the dolphins were so playful and happy. I loved every second. With the sun warming my back, I grew in bravery.  Dangled fish from my fingers turned into gripped fins between my teeth.  I still remember the heart-pounding terror and elation I felt when the dolphins came up to give me a kiss and grab the fish from my mouth.

Had I not been willing to stop filling my bucket with mullet and get on the fisherman’s boat, I would have missed out. I would never have tasted the wind, the sun, the joy and the sea, nor would I have challenged the fear.

And that’s just it.

Jesus doesn’t offer us a life full of fishing and baking, of overwhelming obligation and laborious living.

He invites us to stop.

In exchange for our tiny, obidient fish and loaves, he offers us an abundant adventure and a love-filled life.

Fish and loaves.

Fish and loaves.

Stop fishing and baking. Just offer your fish and loaves.

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