It’s been said we are either going into a storm, in one, or coming out the other side. One storm in my life happened while I was studying at seminary. One hot summer day, I left my books on the desk, and flung open the backdoor to my tiny cottage. It was a quaint dwelling, but heated up like a pizza oven in the afternoon. Eyeing a small patch of dirt outside the door I thought what a perfect place for a mini prayer garden to relax in the cool of the morning. I found heavy stones to use as a border and hauled them to my chosen spot.
This action led to years of pain as the stones were too heavy and put out my back. I had such a lovely summer planned and that all was shattered in an afternoon. The problem became so severe I had to drop out of school for a quarter. I couldn’t bend or sit.
During that time I found an old calendar that included a painting by Delacroix of Yeshua sleeping in a small boat assailed by great waves. The disciples were frantically adjusting the sail and heaving over the side while their Messiah peacefully rested His head on a pillow (Mark 4:35-41). I thought, “Now I know where I am. I’m in an unexpected storm that threatens my everyday life”.
For a while that was a great consolation. It was like getting a diagnosis for an unexplained illness. But as I continued to gaze at the painting, I became angry. I was alone and unable to help myself and very scared. “Lord, I cried in the spirit of the disciples, don’t you care what happens to me”? I ripped the picture from the calendar, and slammed it inside a large textbook. Several days later, I needed the text book and again was confronted by the artwork. At that moment I had an epiphany: I was identifying with the wrong people in the picture! It was the peaceful Yeshua that I needed to appreciate, not the hysterical disciples. He wanted me to learn peace in the storm and not be so controlled by outer circumstances. What enabled Him to sleep so serenely? Was it the great trust in had in the Father’s dominion?
The disciples in our narrative call on Yeshua as “Lord’ but actually relate to the sleeping Messiah like children appealing to an uncaring parent. Did I believe in my depths that He cared for me no matter what?
I began to pray for a trust muscle. I had faith for healing, but trust seemed more primal, more like a firm belief God would never drop me. I had prayer from several people in many different languages, and was so anointed with oil I felt like an olive. But physical healing did not come. Was God restoring something more profound?
I was deeply grieved for a ‘lost’ god who wasn’t answering my prayers. I looked to Him for support and didn’t seem to find any. However, what was lost was not God himself, but instead my ill-fitting concept of God. Did I really feel secure in God’s love when my life was tumbling inside out? This honest questioning was the beginning of healing.
Like the disciples, once the storm was stilled, and although not completely healed physically, I began to accept God was both good and mysterious. “Who is this that even the sea obeys him”(Mark 4:1)?
This process can begin in sorrow, but becomes transformative when the tight little conceptual container in which we have enclosed the Lord is broken. We come out of disorganization to a reoriented faith that allows God to be God. We don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, like Job, while we begin looking for answers, we end seeking a renewed relationship, and one that is more surrendered.
As I worked my way through the process I realized that while I didn’t know why this happened, or how I would be cured, God suffered along with me. I began to see there were gifts in the pain, “treasures in darkness” (Isaiah 45:3) I started to noticed the students in wheelchairs, and the paralyzed man who typed term papers with a pencil in his teeth. I now felt a solidary with a group I hardly noticed before. I petitioned the school for better signage and computers fitted for special needs. My world was both more restrictive and broadened at the same time.
This experience was actually an equipping for ministry as a chaplain in a large, research hospital after I graduated. I would never have understood the patients if I had not walked through this valley. I now had two powerful pillars on which to stand: God’s goodness and God’s mystery. I didn’t have to have explanations in order to rest in Him. His perfect love meant I was able to withstand the ambiguity of sorrowful circumstances in my life and be more present to the distress in the lives of others.
If someone is in a storm, encourage them to meet God where they are by engaging in honest dialogue like King David who wrote in Psalm 13: 1 “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me”? Let God to come into the anguish. He is not put off by our weakness. Help them to understand that on the cross Yeshua shattered the loneliness of trauma and pain.
Listen to their story and don’t try to fix them. You’re not God. But as you listen you can be the embodiment of the listening Father and will be able to aid them see their journey in a healing light as they trust, forgive, believe and repent.
Help them remember that God restored Job’s fortunes, the disciples reached the other side, and that the crucifixion ended in the Resurrection, the Ascension and than on to Pentecost. And that same Spirit lives in us who believe.