If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
In case you didn’t know it, this is not a Bible verse. Most people disagree on the source of this quote, attributions differing from a Chinese proverb to Maimonides to Anne Isabella Ritchey. No matter its source, it shares a wisdom that we can find reflected in this passage in Matthew:
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20
They left their nets and followed Jesus, seeking to fish for the souls of people. In Luke’s telling of this story, we learn that Jesus first asked Simon and Andrew to let him use their boat as a place to stand away from the gathering crowds as he spoke to them. After he finished speaking, this happened:
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:4-7
Even though he just changed their immediate income needs, they chose to follow him. Why? Because he could show them how to save people rather go fishing every day. Which choice was harder to make? If we’re honest, following Jesus had to be a difficult decision. The Bible tells us that they followed Jesus willingly, but I bet they thought about the hardships this might cause their families and themselves. Yet they went. It was the better choice and changed their lives forever.
I wrote a few weeks ago about my daughter and how to recognize a prodigal, concluding that she is not a prodigal, yet, because she still expects something from me and others. She’s unwilling to face her struggles on her own.
When we raise our children, we want to give them everything. As a single parent, I couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean I made wise decisions. There were times I tried to eliminate her struggles because I knew the pains (I imagined) she had suffered due to my poor choices early in life. Did I do the right thing?
I’ll never know. She did experience hardships, and definitely is doing so now. Were there ones I should have allowed her to face that I stepped in and removed the obstacles too soon?
I’m reminded of the butterfly and its cocoon. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ve included it below:
Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it. The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.
One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.
The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.
At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress! The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!
As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.
But neither happened!
The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly…
If we remove the hardships, we remove the opportunities for a person to thrive. By no means did I, or could I, remove all of the obstacles in my daughter’s life. She had plenty, and she is living many more now. I’ll never know if there was one I should have left for her to stumble over. What I do know is, unlike the butterfly, she can still become strong.
We must let our loved ones struggle, or they will never fly. This is not ever easy to do as the observer.
Something to think about as you go throughout your day.