The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

When Burden and Blessing Are One and the Same


It hadn’t been a good day for fishing. It seems they’d gone out recreationally, perhaps just to pass some time as they had been told to wait for Jesus. But they’d been professional fishermen so they knew the water and the waves and were familiar with the habits of the creatures which they sought with their nets. Yet fully employing every resource at their disposal, they were still coming up empty. So I hazard to guess that they may have wondered at the presumption of the man they did not recognize who stood on the shore and offered his advice from a distance, counsel that perhaps seemed even foolish in its simplicity.”Cast your net on the other side of the boat and you’ll find some fish,” he confidently told them.

I imagine they may have done it out of politeness, not wanting to offend this assertive stranger, switching their net from one side of the boat to the other. But it worked! Their nets were soon alive with an abundance of shiny, slippery fish. So plentiful was their catch that seven capable men couldn’t manage to pull the heavy load over the side into the boat. When they saw the miracle, they immediately knew the identity of the man calling to them from the shore. At that recognition Simon Peter jumped, fully-clothed, into the sea to swim towards Jesus.

The rest of them strained as they rowed the boat to drag their fish-filled burden to the banks of the lake where Simon Peter did meet them to help unload. What a catch!  But certainly not a blessing devoid of some heavy lifting (actually, some too-heavy-for-lifting).

Reading this account, I found myself wondering how often I mistake a blessing for a burden because the weight of it seems too much for me to handle. I immediately thought of motherhood and how I am so aware of my inadequacy to lift the net out of the water. I think of the role I get to play in these little people’s lives, ensuring they’ve been loved well enough, gained the right skills, seen modeled a way of living that gives them what they need to lead a good life…Big stuff!  How can I, weak and ill-equipped as I am, possibly nudge this wonderful and weighty load towards safe harbor? As I heave towards my goal, definitely feeling like I’m mostly just dragging them along rather than demonstrating actual grace in this calling, I’m certain that my clumsy efforts will surely result in something going wrong, tearing the nets and spilling out the fish, damaging the precious cargo I’m trying to carry.

We have been taught to evaluate how fit we are for a task by how gracefully we handle it. It is a too-common thought of mine that if I didn’t naturally exhibit the specific skills or resources or strengths to take on a particular “blessing,” then I maybe shouldn’t have taken it at all. I doubt whether I should have been given something if I don’t manage to handle it perfectly.  I assume that everything that is too heavy for me is 1) a burden and that 2) I shouldn’t have or don’t deserve to carry it.

I imagine myself in that situation the disciples found themselves- with that  grunt-inducing, gleaming gift pulling on my nets as I try to muscle it into the boat.  Knowing me, huffing and puffing away, I’d already be worrying beyond that step too.  I’d be thinking ahead, thinking not just about my (in)ability to pull in that load, but whether or not I had what I needed to get all those fish sorted and cleaned, and how I’d find the wood and stoke the fire so I could feed myself and others before I succumbed to exhaustion and hunger.

The text in John 21 goes on to tell us that “It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.” This detail certainly was added to add to our sense that the disciples were given a blessing, receiving way more than they needed or even could gracefully handle, but that the Giver of the blessing had even held their net together. They may very keenly have felt the sweat-inducing, muscle-testing effort of bringing that load in, but despite their lack of ability, they were granted all they required to make it to shore.

That supernaturally-bolstered net made me think: What if instead of evaluating and relying on my own paltry abilities, fearing that the blessing might be too heavy for me, I had enough faith to rest confidently in my assurance of His provision of all that I might need? What if I just let myself revel and rejoice in having been blessed, propelled forward not by my own hardscrabble efforts, but riding the current of the grace that surely accompanied the gift?  What if, as I began to wonder here, the whole way we think about burden and blessing is a false dichotomy: What if the “light” burden that He promises is actually His blessings heaped on us?

On top of the blessings of  a plethora of fish and a net in which they’d safely stay, there’s this: Jesus was on the shore waiting for the disciples. He’d built a glowing fire on the sand, coals laden with the breakfast He’d prepared. The smell of the smoky fish and the warm bread must have wafted over the water, the promise of full stomachs and good fellowship giving them the second wind they needed to pull themselves and their fish to land after their early morning’s efforts. When they got there, the passage tells us that, “Jesus said to them, Come and have breakfast…Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” Jesus himself served them breakfast!

The blessing so heavy it could easily have been mistaken for a burden, the resources they needed to manage it, the fire and fellowship with which to warm themselves after being chilled by the elements, the nourishment they needed to sustain themselves for the rest of the day–all provided by He who beautifully and lovingly cares for every last detail of our lives.

 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

What blessing have you mistaken for a burden? What good work have you been hesitant to take on because you aren’t sure you have what it takes to carry the load?

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