Last Thursday night, I waved our son off to rugby practice and started clearing away the remains of teatime. It was still early and so perfectly light outside. Not that I was thinking about it being light. When it’s light, you just expect it to be light. But then, a second later, it was utter darkness. The house was cast into a black-orange gloom.
I poked my head out of the front door to see what was happening and quickly banged it shut as the desert tried to force its way inside. It was a sand storm. Our first significant one since moving here.
My main worry was our son. He was with my friend, who thankfully rang to say they were safe. When he eventually appeared in the hallway, he described seeing the storm’s approach whilst they were doing their drills: a huge tsunami-style wave of dust and dirt on the horizon, rolling straight towards them.
Over the weekend, I thought about the storm. It’s a theme that has been cropping up for me in various ways and in different guises. I’m not talking about physical storms but those things that blow up in our lives, which threaten to knock us off course.
Sometimes we don’t see them coming, as I didn’t when the house was inexplicably plunged into darkness. Sometimes they loom in the distance, within view as they bear down on us, as that same storm did for everyone at rugby practice.
My current storms aren’t massive but big enough to lower my mood and make me feel rudderless. I didn’t want to write this blog last week. It was the first time since starting it that I had no ideas and no desire to write. Things seemed pointless and hard.
As the week went on, I stated to realise I was in a parenting storm. I’d seen it coming for a while and yet I was a surprised to find myself in it. People warned me that parenting can get harder as children mature but I’m only just experiencing what that means. The upshot was that, by last week, I felt drained and useless. All out of ideas. Unable to see a way forward.
So what do we do when we are in a storm, being blown about, feeling we have lost our direction? It doesn’t need to be a parenting storm. It can be any storm. Anything that causes us to lose our direction, which rains down on our emotions and leaves us bruised, maybe battered.
An old photo of me pregnant and sporting a plastic bag!
Over the weekend, I remembered a talk I heard years ago that addressed this very thing. It was about Jesus telling the disciples to cross Lake Galilee in a boat whilst he stayed behind on land to pray (Mark 6: 45-51, Matthew 14:22-36, John 6: 11-24)).
Jesus watches the disciples strain at the oars with the wind against them. Shortly before dawn he goes out to them, walking on the lake. The disciples are terrified, mistaking him for a ghost. Jesus says to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”. He then climbs into the boat with them and the wind dies down.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus promises to give us peace (John 14:27) and yet here he is, sending the disciples, if not into a full-blown storm, certainly into difficulties. Lake Galilee is 16 miles long so even if they were travelling the entire length (it’s not clear what route they took), it shouldn’t have taken them all night.
Maybe Jesus didn’t know the wind would pick up. Maybe he got caught out by the weather. But I don’t believe he did. I think it’s more likely that he knew the crossing would be rough. So why did he let them go? How can he claim to offer peace when he makes the disciples sail into trouble?
Just to qualify what I am going to say, I don’t think anyone has a complete answer to these questions. I am suspicious of anyone who claims to do so.
My husband sent me these verses this week, a gentle reminder that there are mysteries we can’t yet understand because God is God and we are not. There are some matters of faith where we have to trust God.
But there must be a bit more we can say. It’s not helpful simply to say ‘trust God’. What if we don’t feel we can trust God? Maybe we don’t believe he is trustworthy. Maybe we think he’s the cause of our problems or, even if we don’t think that, we wonder why he doesn’t stop them.
Back to the disciples- a group of men who consistently revealed, in the early days, that they had very little trust in Jesus. They had just watched him feed 5,000 plus with 5 loaves and 2 fish but when the storm hit, the significance of that miracle was lost on them. They were 12 men struggling in a boat, beaten by their circumstances.
The talk I heard all those years ago focused on the fact that Jesus had his eye on the disciples the whole time. The disciples may have lacked faith and felt abandoned but Jesus was still with them regardless. Even before he walked out to them, into the heart of the situation, he was watching them.
A number of years ago, I was experiencing another parenting storm. My husband was in Afghanistan and I was unravelling, not coping with a child who was also unravelling, probably from the separation and the fact their mummy wasn’t always a solid option. I went with our children on an Armed Forces Christian Union weekend away during that time and it became apparent to various people that I was struggling.
A lady there said to me that I was in a storm. She asked me whether I knew that the eye of a storm is actually completely still. I had never heard that before. Her message was that I could have peace, even though everything around me was chaotic. She wrote her words down for me and I kept them (below).
An extract from my notes that weekend
On Monday morning, when I was back at home, an RAF padre who had been at that weekend rang me. He wanted to know how he could help. Within a matter of days, he’d arranged a Parent Support Advisor, employed by the council, to come and see me at home. That very special lady helped me through that time and months later, she revealed she was a Christian.
I couldn’t see it back then but Jesus had his eye trained on me the whole time. The eye of the storm was Jesus- it was his eye on me. I would now say that Jesus is the eye of the storm- that our peace lies in knowing he is watching us.
I don’t believe Jesus’ involvement in our lives requires us to have faith or trust. I think he is at work in all of our lives, whether we believe or not. The disciples didn’t seem to have much faith on the lake but he was still there for them. I don’t know how much faith I had on my weekend away and yet Jesus walked into my situation in the form of the Parent Support Advisor. His presence wasn’t just a nice theory. He provided a real solution. She was a person, she became a friend.
But I do think that, if we want to experience God’s peace, we need to recognise him and that involves looking for him. Even when the disciples saw Jesus coming out to them across the water, they remained scared because they didn’t realise who he was. The peace came when they recognised him and he climbed into the boat with them. Then the wind died down.
Often, it’s in the searching that we find God and start to trust him. We may not trust him at the start but as we look for him, he reveals himself to us and trust can grow.
The story of the disciples on the lake continues in the gospels of Matthew and John with the disciple Peter climbing out of the boat to walk to Jesus. He still doesn’t believe it’s Jesus so he asks Jesus to call him onto the water. Jesus’ response is an invitation: ‘Come.’
Peter had to get out of the boat, not quite knowing what he believed. At first, as he focused on Jesus, he was able to walk across the water to him. But as soon as he took his eyes away from Jesus and looked across at the wind, he grew scared and began to sink. Jesus immediately put out his hand to help.
We also need to look to Jesus and not at the storm if we want to experience the peace he offers. More than that, when the help come, we need to focus on its source and not just the help. The peace I experienced as a result of my weekend wasn’t just the help I received: it was knowing where it came from. There was such comfort in realising that God cared about me enough to arrange it. For me, it was God revealing himself in my chaos and giving me a glimpse of his kindness.
So I am in a bit of a storm again. This current situation has been rumbling on at a low level, with various peaks, for a long time. Last Wednesday, feeling low and hopeless, I nearly didn’t go to my ladies’ prayer group. I just wanted to be alone. I didn’t feel God was watching or helping me.
There was an actual storm that morning and I thought I could make that my excuse for not going. But at the last minute, I put on my mac and cycled over to my friends. I told them how I was feeling and some of the answers to my questions tumbled out of my own mouth.
Months ago, my sister had suggested I start a Bible journal with our child as a way of connecting with them and God. I didn’t even know what Bible journaling was and I ignored her idea. But at my ladies’ prayer group, I decided to give it a go.
When I got home, I googled ‘Bible journaling’, read up about it, found a notebook and got out some pencils. That night, we started. We discovered we love it! We have done it 3 or 4 times since. And without wanting to overplay it, the result has been miraculous.
Where I was doubting, Jesus already had his eye on me. He had provided the answer but, like the disciples, I had failed to recognise what was in front of me. Sometimes we need to search for the eye of the storm- to find Jesus and the peace he offers. Sometimes it may only be in hindsight that we see him, possibly when we read back over a journal. But he is always there, inviting us to step out of the boat and look to him.
My first attempt at Bible artwork!https://youtu.be/vQ3h3LZBjDg