(Preached at Alma United Church & Melville United Church on December 31, 2017)
Once upon a time, I had a cat. I think I must have been a teenager, old enough at any rate to take some responsibility for the cat. At that time, we had outdoor cats, and on one particular day, my cat wanted to go out. So he mewed at the front door, which I dutifully opened. The cat took one look outside and decided that he was NOT going out that door—it was raining. Hard.
So the cat turned tail, and walked towards the back door. When he got there, he mewed, asking to be let out. I told him he was a silly cat, but I opened the door anyhow. “You’ll see, cat! It’ll be raining out this door too!”
Except that it wasn’t. Out the back door, there was lovely blue sky and sunshine. The cat happily went on his way, leaving me scratching my head.
Peter and the other disciples must have felt the same way. “Fish from the other side of the boat? Are you nuts! We’ve been fishing all night, and there are NO fish out there. You’ll see!”
So they cast their nets off the right side of the boat instead of the left, and, well… Somebody was surprised, but it wasn’t the One who’d told them to throw their nets over the other side of the boat!
One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing you’ve always done, and expecting different results.”
I think we’re all a little insane at times. We get stuck.
Stuck in our church life. “We’ve always done it this way! I like the old hymns! What we’re doing now worked when I was a kid—if it doesn’t work now, then young people nowadays must be less religious than when I was growing up, because back then, our Sunday Schools were full and we had huge youth groups, and we were doing the same things then that we’re doing now!”
We get stuck in our personal and work lives, too.
We don’t understand that a large part of what happens to us on a day-to-day basis can be changed, if only we change how we relate to the world. Instead, it’s always someone else’s fault, someone else’s problem. Someone else needs to change.
Stuck in your job? Just complain, like you always do. Your boss or coworkers or the government needs to step in and change things.
Stuck in your relationships? So-and-so doesn’t like me, doesn’t listen, doesn’t care. It’s not really my problem—THEY have to change. THEN I’ll think about changing how I feel about them.
Stuck in your finances? Blame Loblaws Corporation and all the others involved in price fixing—after all, if bread is more expensive than it should be, it follows that most everything is overpriced. The retailers and suppliers and the governments should keep a closer watch on that sort of thing!
Or instead of complaining, you can just give up. Nothing’s going to change—might as well get used to it.
We can take the last words of our Ecclesiastes reading to heart: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
We can muddle along in our rut, never quite happy, but too afraid or lazy to pull ourselves over the brink into a brave new world.
We can pay too much, eat too much, exercise too little, come to church and sit in our pews and forget the readings and the sermon five minutes after we hear them, and in general continue on the same road that we’ve been travelling for most of our lives, until it’s time to go meet our god face to face.
Or we can heed Jesus, and throw our nets over the side just this once more, on the other side of the boat.
Note that the change wasn’t really all that big. The disciples didn’t invent a completely new type of net, or a fish-finder, or a more powerful boat. They didn’t bring on a whole other crew of burly fishermen, or even a consultant who would tell them what to catch and how to catch it.
The only change they made was to cast their nets over the other side of the boat.
I’ve always liked New Year’s Eve. A chance for a fresh start. A chance to set goals and maybe finally do something important with my life.
I learned about “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.
I set SMART goals. I set goals for losing weight, exercising more, getting my debt under control, writing a book, getting my cluttered, dirty house under control, and so on.
These are goals I care deeply about. Goals that excite me. Goals that I set year after year after year…
I didn’t achieve them. Not one of them. And it left me feeling bereft.
Then a few years ago, a friend introduced me to the FlyLady. The FlyLady is Marla Cilley, a “family executive officer” who found herself struggling to keep her house clean amidst dogs and children and a husband and a personality that did NOT like to clean the house.
And one day her husband asked her to throw her net over the other side of the boat.
“I don’t care about the rest of the house. I only ask that you keep one side of the sink clear of dishes so that in the morning, I can make my coffee.”
One simple, actionable item she could do to make things better.
She threw her net over the right side of the boat instead of the left, and caught…
A new career as a personal organizing guru. She’s even been on television, helping out an “Extreme Hoarder.” Wildly improved finances. Lost weight and better exercise routines. And a happier husband, who could now make his morning coffee without having to contend with last night’s supper dishes.
Because what we find, when we choose to take simple actions on our own behalf, is that God gets excited and fills our net full of fish. And that one action, once it becomes routine, will probably inspire us to do something else just a little differently, and once again, we’ll experience unexpected dividends out of line with our simple action.
It’s actually not magic, but basic science.
Consider an airplane. It takes off from Pearson International Airport, heading west.
A very small deviation in course, hardly noticeable at first, will make for a very different final destination. If you head straight west, you’ll end up in Minneapolis or Milwaukee. Keep going, and you’ll end up going out to sea.
But veer just a little to the south, and you’ll end up landing in Sacramento or Los Angeles. A little to the north, and you’ll end up in Seattle or Vancouver.
The longer the trip, the less of a deviation you have to make. For example, Vancouver’s pretty much due west of Winnipeg, but if you’re going to Winnipeg, you need to start off flying in a more northerly direction, because being closer to Toronto, it calls for a different flight path.
Or consider a savings account. If you need to accumulate twelve thousand dollars by the end of next year, you’re going to have to save one thousand dollars a year. If you need to do it over ten years, you only need to put one hundred dollars a month into the bank, or even less if its properly invested.
To put it simply, the more time you maintain a small change, the greater the end result will be.
I’ve learned, over the past few years, that for most folks including myself, SMART goals aren’t really all that smart. They sound intelligent and official-like, but as presented, they don’t lead to change.
The thing I’ve found that leads to change—the ONLY thing I’ve found that leads to change—is doing things differently.
Casting my net over the other side of the boat.
And because little changes are easier to make than big changes, they’re more sustainable and thus are more effective over time.
A vow to clean out one side of the sink every night, or to make my bed every morning, is more likely to happen than a vow to thoroughly clean the kitchen or bedroom top-to-bottom every week.
Little changes lead naturally to big ones.
I make my bed or shine my sink, and I notice that there’s some dirty laundry that didn’t make it into the hamper, or some clean dishes that need putting away, and hey! It’s only a second or two to do, so I do it. And before long, order has spread throughout the house. It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it was.
I take the time to plan a breakfast menu and shop for food, and it becomes a lot easier and faster to eat a healthy breakfast at home than hit the drive-thru. And before long, the pounds start to fall off and the bank account stabilizes. Who’da thunk it?
To change what’s going on in our lives and to get ourselves to a better place, we don’t need a long list of New Year’s resolutions, most of which will be forgotten by February.
We don’t need SMART goals, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, though I like the sound of those a lot more than I like the idea of SMART goals. We don’t need to change our entire life in a moment, hoping that something will stick.
We just need to change one little thing at a time. Throw our nets over the other side of the boat, and get ready to haul in the fish.