When I was a kid, I had this thing for pretending I was surfing. In my swimming pool, mind you. As in, no waves. But I didn’t let that little detail stop me.
I had these big blue foam lounger floats that when slid just right into the water made an excellent surfboard. All I had to do was build up some speed, take a flying leap from the side, and land surfboard-style on the float. If I stuck the landing and had enough forward momentum, the float would skim across the water for quite a ways … before I lost my balance and had to bail. Simple pleasures.
While I got pretty good at “surfing” in a pool on a float, I never could walk on the water. Obviously.
But can you imagine the amount of crazy balance that would take?
When Peter stepped out of the boat, do you think he took a flying leap so he wouldn’t sink straight down into the water? Maybe to try to jump as far as he could to reach Jesus before he went down.
Or do you think he straddled the side of the boat and gingerly stuck his big toe into the sea? To test the stability of the waves before putting his full weight on them?
The way I’ve always pictured is that once Jesus told him to, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” per se, he swung over the side of the boat, landed solidly on the water, and proceeded to hoof it to Jesus without another thought as to what he was doing. He was going to His Lord. ‘Nough said.
But then there came a point when he might have thought, “I’m walking on water! Wait, what?! And wow, it’s really hard to balance. I think I’m falling. I’m sinking! Lord, save me!”
If you’ve ever suffered from vertigo, poor balance, dizziness, or even motion sickness, you might understand why it makes sense that Peter could have thought those things.
Truly, not only was it a miracle that Peter was walking on the water for the physics of either making the water more solid or making Peter float.
The fact is, Peter’s systems for balance should have been thrown off so that he would have a hard time standing up at all. Although, the man was a fisherman, so probably had a well-developed vestibular system. Maybe that’s part of the reason he was so confident that he could handle it.
Our ability to balance is a coordination of three systems: vision, vestibular (inner ear), and proprioception (feedback from what our muscles/nerves feel).
Water by nature is a fluid object. If Peter stood on water that felt solid, but looked like it was still flowing, that would confuse the body’s balance systems. As in, he was walking on a moving object. It shouldn’t feel solid.
It’s kind of like if you’ve ever tried to read while riding in a car. The book is not moving but your body feels the motion of the car so it confuses the systems. Things don’t match. And what do you get? Nauseous.
But if you look out the window at the movement that matches what you feel in the car, you are far less likely to have that mismatch take place in your brain’s interpretation of what’s going on.
As long as Peter, by faith, kept his eyes on Jesus, his visual input (Jesus) was solid.
That matched up with what Peter felt when walking on the “solid” water. But as soon as Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, not only was it a sign of his lack of faith, but it would have caused that mismatch of systems. Feet feel solid. Water is not solid. Uh-oh.
But wait! There’s a third system involved. And we can still operate quite nicely even if only one component of balance is compromised. For instance, we can still stand up when our eyes are closed because we have that third component, the vestibular system.
The vestibular system is like a complex leveling system that’s found within the inner ear. This group of fluid-filled tubes “reads” what’s going on around you and tells your brain where your body is in space, even with your eyes closed. Pretty amazing right? At least as long as everything is working properly.
If our balance systems are off, it can cause not just a little annoying problem but can literally knock you off your feet. And make you nauseated, head swim, room spin, and other not so fun things. That’s the vestibular system.
If our muscles are imbalanced or weak it can throw off our ability to balance as well. Which is an important predictor of quality of life later on. source
Just like anything else, if you don’t use and challenge your balance systems regularly, you lose it. Literally.
Likewise, if our thoughts are not centered on God but we get caught up in the things of this world, it can throw off our spiritual balance and ultimately affect our quality of eternal life. We must walk in the faith that God will keep us from falling.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. James 1:6
So how do you know if you have poor balance?
Like James said, check for wavering.
Try this (next to a wall or chair just in case):
Stand with your feet in line as if you’re walking on a tightrope
Make sure you have your balance
Keep a chair or wall nearby for the next part
Close your eyes (not until you’re done reading what to do next) and count to 10 slowly
Open your eyes
What did you notice? Was it easy or hard? Were you wobbly (wavering)?
Now switch it up and try putting the opposite foot in front than you did last time. Repeat the above instructions. How does it feel the same or different?
If you had some wobble, it’s probably normal. If you couldn’t stay standing without holding onto something, your balance could use some work.
Want to get a taste of what walking on water might feel like? (No, you don’t have to go surfing in a swimming pool)
Grab a 1/2 foam roller (a pillow will sort of work but not as well).
Turn the foam roller with the flat side up and stand on it on one foot. Now try pushing that foot down through the foam roller as if you are trying to lift the opposite foot up higher than the other one (what you do to take a step).
Like this …