Paddling our boat away from the bustling cities and noise of modern life, and into the deep waters represents our willingness to delve into self-reflection, where the new noise that arises is the restlessness and turmoil within our soul. This conflict is symbolized by the strong winds and waves crashing against our boat, threatening to capsize us. Out so far, we can’t look over our shoulders and find comfort in a visible shore to swim back to. But if we have faith in God and realize he is here with us in our boat, resting peacefully, what have we to fear?
God does not push us out to the deep waters without our consent, as he loves us so much as to respect our free will. Even if sitting on the shores or in the shallow waters isn’t where he is ultimately calling us to, he won’t force us. Fear is not of God, however, so if fear is what keeps us close to the shore, we must call upon him to give us strength and courage to set out for that next step he’s calling us to.
When we set out, Christ is always with us in our boat as we paddle towards heaven. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read how Christ entered the boat first and then his disciples followed suit.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”—Matthew 8:23-27 (RSV2CE)
The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible offers another level of symbolism of the boat:
“The wave-tossed boat signifies the struggles of the Christian life. Endangered by the wind and fierce waves, God’s people are awakened by spiritual assaults and become aware of their helplessness. They call upon the Lord for salvation and inner peace. The near presence of Christ assures their deliverance, and his swiftness strengthens their wavering faith.”—Dr Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament
St. Therese of Lisieux shares a wonderful reflection on allowing Christ to remain asleep in her boat:
“Now I must tell you about my retreat for Profession. Far from experiencing any consolation, complete aridity—desolation, almost—was my lot. Jesus was asleep in my little boat as usual. How rarely souls let Him sleep peacefully within them. Their agitation and all their requests have so tired out the Good Master that He is only too glad to enjoy the rest I offer Him. I do not suppose He will wake up until my eternal retreat, but instead of making me sad, it makes me very happy. Such an attitude of mind proves that I am far from being a Saint. I should not rejoice in my aridity, but rather consider it as the result of lack of fervor and fidelity, while the fact that I often fall asleep during meditation, or while making my thanksgiving, should appall me. Well, I am not appalled; I bear in mind that little children are just as pleasing to their parents asleep as awake; that doctors put their patients to sleep while they perform operations, and that after all, ‘the Lord knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are but dust.’ ” (Ps. 102:14).—St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower