Salmon fishing season opened last week here on the Pacific Coast, but I’m not going. I tried it seven years ago, but I can’t say I really did any fishing. I spent most of the time hugging the rail contributing to the caloric intake of the fish. Perhaps that is what is meant by the Biblical admonition to “cast your bread upon the water?” Or perhaps not. Nevertheless, my fishing attempt did add a great deal to my prayer life as I bent over the railing watching the waves rise to meet the ever-varying distance to my mouth. “Please, God, please,” I prayed. In an attempt to recreate the miraculous boating experiences of Jesus I prayed “Oh, God, could you please calm these winds? Or at least could you show me how to walk on the waves to get home?” I begged God to give us our limit as he’d done for the disciples so that we might quickly return to shore. Nothing happened. The fish weren’t jumping in the boat and there was no way I was walking home. The waves sustained their strength — and my stomach sustained its weakness. Yet, despite the unanswered prayers, I kept my faith. After all, what kind of faith would I have if it could be jettisoned by a temporary illness over the ship railing? The irony of my struggle was that I had planned my fishing excursion as a stress-reliever from the past month when I’d seen too many families experience an erosion of faith. I’d seen too much that month in my job as a hospital chaplain. I’d watched the faith of more than one family disintegrate before my eyes. And I don’t mind telling you that getting that close to imploding faith can be hazardous to your own faith. I was in the grips of compassion fatigue. When you watch someone hold the hand of their dying child or spouse and you can see the anger fill their grieving eyes, you begin to wonder if you might become collateral damage. I watched their faith explosion come quickly as they enumerate the things they’d done for God and then demand to know why God wasn’t performing in a prescribed contractual manner. Their unstated contract was one in which they saw “the god of the first part agreeing to bless, expand and replenish the worshipper of the second part if said worshipper agrees to all conditions implied therein.” Contractual faith like this is something that will often resemble a life insurance policy as it assumes that strong faith will be free of calamity and suffering. The problem is that those who buy into that kind of contract will usually see their faith do a header deep into the hard ground of reality. Out on that boat, I was humbly reminded that a contractual faith would always be shattered by reality. While we may hope for a faith that keeps us from harm in the midst of waves that sicken us with terror, we’d best choose to pray for a competent faith that sustains us and keeps us afloat. In the meantime, on the other side of the boat, that’s exactly what my son seemed to be praying for. And God seemed to be answering. Having caught his limit, his simple prayer went something like, “God, help me catch my dad’s limit, too.”