Storms

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee.
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

Edward Hopper

Life makes me feel shit sometimes. Perhaps a bit more than sometimes. Allan Saunders was right when he said that “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.” But just because we know this doesn’t mean it hurts any less when it happens.

My boyfriend and I were planning on spending the summer together – as a newly fledged couple we wanted to get to know each other better. Then he had to go back to Lebanon one week in; I won’t get to see him until October. We recently decided to take a break – it’s impossible to be in a relationship spanning 3000km without getting angry and depressed. Of course this was one of those moments where life butts in and fucks up all your plans, but the notion of accepting life as it comes is like most ‘nice’ ideas: good in theory, impossible in practice.

At times like this my mind can only be described as stormy. I feel like I’m swimming in a tempest of anxieties and sadnesses and it can be a real struggle to keep my head above the water, to want to do more than just curl up into a ball and nap all day. Crappy television seems like the only option to pass the time and try to keep my mind off everything I’m worrying about.

Contemporary evangelical Christianity perpetuates an idea that through faith we will be happy, carefree, strong in the face of life’s shit storms, immune to the sadness and mental turmoil that comes with so many of life’s motions. “Christ is enough for me; everything I need is in you” declares one worship song. According to these principles all will be okay as long as I pray harder, become purer, devote myself more, and only focus on Jesus. But Jesus can’t make my boyfriend come home; singing about how Jesus has everything I need does not fill the emptiness I feel, the crippling loneliness, the general dissatisfaction; focusing just on Jesus does not seem like a very helpful option when I can’t even focus on simple tasks, as if I’ve been left me to drown.

These thoughts are not unbiblical – in fact Jesus’ friends felt exactly the same way. There’s a story in Mark there’s a story about a boat trip Jesus takes with his friends. Tired after a long day of preaching to crowds, he takes a nap at the back of the boat. During their journey they are hit by a massive storm. You think that these seasoned fishermen would be able to cope with a storm, but instead they lose it and panic. Angry and afraid, they awaken Jesus and ask him “Do you not care that we are drowning?” (Mk 4:38 CEB)

I completely understand how the disciples felt, and find myself asking the same question. In my anger and fear at the uncomfortable emotions that get thrown at me I stamp my feet and question whether God cares that I’m drowning and can’t take this anymore. Is Jesus just sleeping while I have to face all this crap alone?

Jesus wakes up and calms the storm. He then turns to his friends and asks them “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” (Mk 4:40 NRSVA)

Jesus asks us to look deeper at our situation and ask why we are fearing it. Probably because we don’t have control over external events, though we’d very much like to. Probably because we think life should go our way, the way we want it to, the way we planned it out, rather than taking its own course. Probably because we are scared of being abandoned, left to fend for ourselves. Probably because we just don’t like feeling shit and want it to go away.

Here, Jesus makes us consider our longing for control over our lives, our circumstances, and our emotions. By calming the storm, Jesus demonstrates that he is the one in control and that he is with us through the storms. He does care deeply about our pain and our struggles. By questioning whether we have faith yet, Jesus is asking how much we have given up the notion that we can control everything about our lives.

You see, having faith is not about being pious, more devoted, happy, perfect to the point that nothing can go wrong. Faith is about the freedom that comes with giving up trying to order the world around us and orchestrating every moment of our lives. True freedom comes with the acceptance that we are not able to fend off every storm that comes our way.

I may feel powerless looking at my storms and admitting that I have no control over them. But neither do the storms have ultimate power over me: Jesus can rebuke them, calm them, still them. Instead of fighting against them, we must bear them patiently, knowing that God is on our side, guiding us through the tempestuous waters around us. And when we give up trying to control the external events around us, we can take control of what we do have power over: how we deal with the situation. We can control how we treat ourselves – we can choose to give ourselves a hard time, or we can acknowledge that these are periods that require more self-care. We have the power to choose to seek help, whether that be therapy, medication, or even just talking to someone who will listen. This is how we gain true power over our storms: not by fighting them, but by focusing on ourselves and changing what we can change.

It’s not if the storms will come, but a matter of when. And if we build our lives on a false sense of being able to control everything around us, we will be washed away when the storms come, powerless when our perceived control fails us. But if we build our lives on faith – a faith that says I am not in control but a God who loves me is, we can face down our storms, knowing they will pass and that life will move on.

Shit happens. Life is unfair. It can be hard to want to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I know that right now I need to focus on myself – my self-care, my self-esteem, and some of the things that are holding me back. Doing this won’t make the storms go away, but it will let me choose how much control I want them to have over my life.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Kathrina von Schegel, translated by Jane Borthwick

Resources that might help:

Rob Bell’s Nooma 001: Rain – This really helped me to think about where God is in the midst of suffering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loFBGdeXGtg

Samaritans – Whatever you’re going through, you can call them any time, from any phone for FREE on 116 123. https://www.samaritans.org/

Childline – Childline is a counselling service for children and young people up to their 19th birthday in the United Kingdom provided by the NSPCC. 0800 1111 https://www.childline.org.uk/

Papyrus – PAPYRUS is the UK Charity for the prevention of young suicide. For PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK call 0800 068 4141. https://papyrus-uk.org/

Mind – A mental health charity offering advice and support. https://www.mind.org.uk/

Shout! – Shout is an affiliate of Crisis Text Line® in the UK that provides free, confidential support, 24/7 via text. Text SHOUT to 85258 in the UK to text with a trained Crisis Volunteer. https://www.crisistextline.uk/

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapists – A database for finding an accredited counsellor or psychotherapist in your area. https://www.bacp.co.uk/

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