I have seen it in their eyes.
I’ve seen it in mine, too, when I mustered enough courage to face myself in the mirror: fear.
I have seen my dad, eyes shot through with the dark storm of fear. He was racing out the door to be a savior to a son who was drowning in chaos and rage. Not his job, this saving, but he forgot who’s job it when the phone call came.
I saw it in my own, as darkness of night came and the test that had confirmed that the baby “spontaneously aborted” was proved right by the onset of labor pains. My worried husband watched me hurt – was it supposed to hurt this badly? – helpless to relieve my fear, my pain.
I’ve seen it in my dear sisters when they face too great of storms, when it seems God has asked far too much of them.
Was it supposed to hurt this badly?
I saw it in my daughter’s eyes when we sad in reverberating silence in the moments after the collision. Our four kids were in the van, but she was the only one I could see, while I sat, trapped, immobile in the front. She simultaneously fought terror and rose up to meet the occasion of caring for the kids because mom and dad could not.
And the storm gathers strength as we wait for help.
We might rush around in an attempt to fight the storm’s wrath, we may huddle in a corner and heap blame upon our weakened frame, our broken hearts. We may fight with one another rising our voices above the rage of the wind. But in our eyes the truth lay bare: we are helpless and afraid.
But not alone.
Every storm serves a purpose.
Yes, every one.
I saw a blip in my facebook feed this morning that made me think of the storm stories in Matthew 8:23-27 and Matthew 14:22-32.
Jesus’ friends were in real danger. Many grew up on the waters of this region as fishermen. They knew their way around jibs and oars and sails. Perhaps simon Peter learned the trade as a young boy from his father. The fear these men felt was equal to the danger they found themselves in that night on the Sea of Galilee. They knew they were out of options as their little vessel thrashed about on the water, gulping in gallons with each rolling wave.
There was but one option, to cry for help in the midst of despairing the inevitable – we’re going to drown!
They’d seen only a little of what Jesus could do. Some healings. They’d listened to his teaching, revolutionary talk about the kingdom of heaven. Was it enough? Was he enough?
And Jesus knew that it was not faith but desperation that drove them to the stern where Jesus rested.
With a word, Jesus subdued the storm. Then turned to the men who had agreed to follow him, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
I don’t believe he was angry or judging them hard with this question, but rather saying so much in a few words:
I AM here with you
I AM stronger than any storm
I AM trustworthy
I AM aware of your distress
I AM able to save
I AM your courage
I AM your only hope
I AM your way out
Later, after weeks of ministry together, another storm arose (isn’t that the way it works? same song, next verse). This time the disciples were separated from Jesus. He had stayed shoreside, climbed a mountainside to pray. Perhaps from his perch he watched the clouds gather, and the moon disappear behind their inky veil. He may have prayed for them through the first three watches of the night. Was the first storm a message, a sign of Jesus’ divine power? Was this second storm a test?
Maybe he knew, from his spot on the mountainside, that his disciples were turning frightened hearts and panicked thoughts over to God. Maybe they were trying.
But they forgot something critical: although Jesus was not in the boat with them, he hadn’t left them. They were never alone, separated from his care, his power, his unfailing courage.
His control over the storm had not decreased. The elements of weather still had to bow before his divinity.
No, the only difference was this: This time, the storm had a different purpose.
The first storm got them to cry out for salvation, to recognize their helplessness. This second storm was designed to test their faith, to see if just one might act on his trustworthiness: to risk the perceived safety of staying on the boat and venture out to the real safety of trusting Jesus.
So Jesus descended the hillside and moved through the watery mess towards the boat, yet another sign that proved he was special, superior to creation. He walked toward the boat and looked an apparition. Oh! The disciples despaired! Wasn’t it enough that they were do die in this storm, now they were to be tormented by ghosts?
But, despite the blinding water and the howling wind, they heard the voice of Jesus: Come.
An invitation to what? To certain death? To leave the boat?
But Peter remembered the previous storm, and he acted. He stepped over the wooden hull and walked toward Jesus.
And didn’t Jesus see it in his eyes?
The fear shot through, white and wide?
And then the understanding that this minute would change everything changed everything in Peter’s expression. Fear ebbed like the wave in a small puddle and began to reflect what emanated from Jesus’s eyes:
Peace. Purpose. Love. Grace. Acceptance. Invitation.
As long as their eyes locked, Peter remained atop the waves.
And we know what happened next. Peter looked at the wind. (Matthew 14:29)
The wind! The thing that cannot be seen!
An invisible force, a symbol of fear itself, threw off Peter’s faith. As he tried to focus on the invisible wind, he lost sight of the visible Jesus before him.
Oh, thank you Peter! Thank you gospel writers for penning and protecting this story. Do you not see each one of us in this crisis?
How often do we focus on the invisibles, the what-ifs, the mounting, howling, unseen potential disaster and shift our focus into the unknown and away from from what we know, from Whom we know?
The shift of focus pushed Peter down, but “immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”(vs31).
And his words spoke lovingly, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter’s pursuit of Christ was a big deal, for Peter. Anytime we take a “leap of faith” it seems like a huge deal. But little faith, when partnered with the power of Jesus can make the impossible (like walking on water) possible. I believe that Jesus is saying here, “Little bits of faith, when placed in my power can do anything, but any shadow of doubt will sink you. But don’t be afraid, I will save you immediately.”
Whether it’s fear, desperation or faith that drives you to Jesus’ arms matters not. What matters is that you look to him! Whenever we stare through the wind and wipe the stormwaters from our eyes and look for him, we will see him. He is always there, he never leaves. He authors the storms, knows their purposes and knows that they will not, cannot overtake us.
I am seeking God’s lovingkindness this month. The first verse on my list of “lovingkindness” verses is Psalm 17:7
Show your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them.
Friend, his right hand is reached out to catch you, to pull you up and in close to him, to save you from any and every storm. Why? His marvelous lovingkindness.
He enables you to be faithful: Ephesians 1:1 tells me that I am faithful in Christ.
Do I fear the wind? Yes, sometimes. Can I hear his voice, his words of truth over the din of storm and doubt? Yes, I can when his word is in me:
“I am faithful in Christ. Show your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save me who trusts in You from those who rise up against me.”
God’s truth speaks louder than the howl of any storm and his salvation is stronger than any enemy.