Unshed Tears

Of Fish and Men
By Jason R. Sullivan

One thing that I love about the Bible is that it is full of fishermen and the sea. I relate here. I love to fish and I love the ocean. I remember being a child taking fishing trips with my grandfather. He was a true fisherman. I think that if I had to pick someone who looked like Jesus it would be him. He was a tall thin man who could build, repair, and mend anything. He could also catch fish. I learned my love for the water from him as well as my love for fixing, repairing, and mending. He taught me, through his actions, that there is truly an art in taking a blank piece of wood with all of itís splinters and knots and through careful and painstaking measures he would turn it into anything his mind could conceive.

I remember one fishing trip in particular, I was about six years old and we were fishing for catfish. I was an impatient child with the attention span of a six year old. He expected nothing more. I think that he pulled in eleven or twelve nice catfish on that trip. I lost exactly one fishing pole to a catfish. Fortunately my grandfather was a patient man, he just smiled and handed me his pole.

At the end of the day we walked back to his old pickup truck. We threw our catch in the back and drove home. I remember looking back and seeing all of those huge fish feeling a sense of pride and belonging. At that age I just acted hyper like any six year old would have. I had my grandfatherís approval and in both of our minds ďweĒ caught eleven catfish.

That evening my grand father tied the stringer of fish to a close line pole and told me to go and hold on to the string. He pulled out his camera and took a picture of me, and in my tiny hands the stringer holding the days catch. Years later I looked at the picture and saw that in the angle that he snapped the shot, all you could see was the hands of a six year old holding a full stringer of fish. If you didnít know any better you would comment of the strength and ability of such a young child to pull in that kind of catch. The problem is that to assume that would be to neglect the man holding the camera. It was his view finder that credited a six year old boy with his own catch. It was his hands that made the catch, and yet it was his hands that now as I am an adult looking back seem to be more imminent in that picture than mine. I think that is how God is with us. It is in those times that we look back at snap shots of our lives and have the opportunity to take a number of positions on it. So much of our perspective and thoughts on these snapshots are tempered by other snap shots. Sometimes the guilt of failures or the harsh words of other adults in those moments makes us view those loving hands so much differently.

Make no mistake I am not saying put on your rose color glasses and look back pretending that itís alright. By no means would I ever say that. Rather I am posing a question. Who holds the camera in your snapshots and where are his hands?

Fast forward with me about twenty four years and a lot of baggage later. It is a beautiful March day in Florida. My friend and I are fishing together in a large saltwater marsh. The idea in fishing is a marsh like this is to wade out and cast as you walk. We refer to these areas as the flats. They are shallow grassy areas that are any where from an inch deep to a few feet deep. Our target this day was for speckled sea trout or the ever elusive Red Drum. My fishing companion started off by catching three or four in the first hour or so while I sat back at the shore catching bait. Afterwards I began to wade and as I waded I caught one little trout. We eventually tried another spot on the flat and my friend again began catching trout left and right. I did what any sensible angry survivor would do. I prayed, ďGod, we are using the same lure, fishing in the same spot, why is he catching all of the fish. I know that I sound a lot like Gideon here but if you would just show me your love by giving me just one keeper that would make my day. I would feel so loved and accepted. So here I go God, I am casting now, Amen.Ē Well the punch line was I didnít catch another fish the entire day. God gave me two nice keepers though. They were caught by the hands of my friend. Now I know that it sounds like I am going to get all sentimental here, and say whoís hands were holding the rod right? Forget that, I was so mad. I prayed angrily, ďGod, all I wanted was to catch some fish, and you didnít let me. I get the point you are providing through other people and all but I didnít catch the fish, I didnít do it!Ē I raged and there was silence.

Was I wrong for being angry? I am a thirty year old fisherman and all I wanted was to be good enough to catch my own fish. I didnít want what I saw as pity, I wanted the thrill of the fight. I wanted to hook some monster fish and have an epic battle and feel the thrill for victory. Godís intentions for this day were so much different. Yeah, he provided fish for me, but He said no to the fight. I rode home looking at those fish which were now mine feeling like a six year old and completely unable to enjoy the generosity of the day. My friend gave up his own catch and gave it to me.

The irony of it all was that he was blown away by the catch. He ended up with eight in his words said, ďIíve never caught that many big ones in a day.Ē God blessed both of us that day. It didnít feel that way then. It felt like he totally blessed my friend and left me to revel in his catch. It wasnít until I got home and reflected over the day that was able to see it as a blessing. Keep in mind that I still was pleased with the blessing but I was able to see that God was not going to let me be independent and rely on my own hands.

The older that I grow the more that I feel that there is a thin line between blessing and judgment. They may resemble each other to a tee, and one may feel more like the other but the separation can only be made by remembering the perspective of the photographer. His eyes see beyond the limits of the photograph and the angles he takes are specific and purposeful. It is often only after years of growth and struggle that we may appreciate the imminent hands of the photographer and the beauty of His perspective.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Unshed Tears by Jason R. Sullivan.