I couldn’t sleep a wink. I tossed and turned all night. I was nervous. A little scared and a lot excited. I was a pretty new and young youth pastor and the next morning I would be loading close to twenty teenagers into two mechanically suspect church vans and heading south for eight hours into Baja California, Mexico for a week long mission trip. Though I had been a part of many trips outside the country and even in positions of leadership on some, this was my first “the buck stops here” trip. We had been preparing our group for this trip for months and the night before we were to set out, my mind was in a whirlwind of thought. What if this happens…what if that happens… The weight of responsibility for the wellbeing of these Jr. High and High School students was settling heavy on me that night. The next morning, after my mostly sleepless night, I was no longer fearful. It was like the storm had lifted and it was go-time. I was excited. The trip went great and it was the first of many great trips I led with that youth group.
That whirlwind, though, is what I’ve been experiencing this past month. We are getting so close to the departure day for our world tour and it has been a crazy month of working a ton of extra hours, a wonky sleep cycle, hours and hours of staring at a computer screen planning travel details, searching for and not finding houses to try and buy before the trip so I don’t have to inconvenience friends when I’m back in town for work, our car breaking down, and more. It has just been a very crazy month and on top of that, the weight of responsibility for taking on a trip of this magnitude and putting my family through this has been settling very heavy on me. Questions and doubt about if I have made the right decision for my family or not have been creeping in. I mean, who in their right mind sells their house and gets rid of most of their possessions to take their family on a jaunt around the world for a year? It sounds so idyllic, right?! Don’t get me wrong, I am SO excited, but up to this point it has mostly just been like being caught up in a storm and I am really longing for the day when the storm breaks and we wake up and board that plane.
It got me thinking about storms, though. What do we do when storms roll in? I remembered the story in scripture where Jesus and his disciples were caught up in a violent storm as they crossed the Galilean Sea, so I sat down and read it a few days ago and it has stuck with me. As I read and meditated through the three versions of the story, it reminded me of something incredibly important.
You and I are built to weather storms.
If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read them in-depth in Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-41, and Luke 8:22-25 of the Bible. But here’s a quick outline. Jesus is with his followers doing Jesus stuff. He tells his disciples to get a boat so they can sail across the lake. A huge, violent storm breaks out while Jesus is sawing logs and the disciples are freaked out. The boat is so overtaken by the waves from this storm that it is taking on water and they are scared out of their minds that they are going to sink. Jesus, on the other hand, is asleep. So, they wake him up in their distress and say, “What the hell, Jesus? We’re about to die.” (slight paraphrase) These were seasoned fishermen in this region and familiar with the furious squalls that were known to blow in. So, this is no little storm for them to be so afraid. Yet, Jesus’ statement was not, “Oh man! Sorry about that, I fell asleep. Let me get that storm for you.” He did calm the storm, but in the “great calm” after, as Mark puts it, Jesus asks a piercing question. “Why were you so afraid?” I think how we view that statement speaks to our view of God’s personality. Did Jesus say it with disappointment or anger? Or, could it have been he had that, “this could have been fun” smirk on his face as he held back his laughter. Either way, it is a penetrating question.
Why does he ask this question? Was it because he was having a good snooze and didn’t want to be interrupted? Maybe one of the reasons why he called them faithless was because they were about to short change their experience of relational connection. They almost crushed their ability to, years down the line, say “Dude! Remember that time we almost died!?”
Shared experiences of discomfort drive you into community with those you’ve shared them with and have the ability to stimulate your courage to face other challenges.
(Malcolm Gladwell has some interesting thoughts on this in his book David and Goliath.) The idea that you survived with one another in the midsts of pain and suffering or discomfort or danger acts like a super adhesive in relationship. Those experiences deposit huge sums of capital into relational bank accounts. This is why it is so hard to break into relationships that have these types of experiences. Military, police, fire, victims of trauma, 9/11 survivors, widows, orphans. The list is endless. “…you weren’t there, you wouldn’t understand, you didn’t experience what we experienced.” And we don’t understand because it’s their shared connection that no one else has. That shared experience of distress is like fertilizer feeding relational connection.
So, don’t short change your relational connection with others by trying to wiggle out of uncomfortable experiences prematurely. Sit in the boat for a while and share them openly with your fellow journeyers or as Jesus said in the midst of another storm, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) I mean, come on, Jesus was in the boat, what could have happened? You know, besides dying and all. Yeah, yeah, I get that. But, they were WITH Jesus and when you’re with Jesus, you don’t need to be afraid of storms.
Have you been battered around by storms recently? Let us know in the comments section below what your story has been.