How did they get back in the boat?


Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash
Earlier this year I started a Facebook Bible Reading Group, and since then, we've been making our way through the Gospel of Mark, one small section at a time. For the past several days, however, two passages we've already read have been calling out to me: the passage where Jesus calms the storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41) and the passage where He heals the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1-20). From my inability to concentrate each time I try to move on, I know God is inviting me to spend more time with these verses. But it's not the miraculous power of Jesus that the Lord keeps highlighting. Rather, it is how the apostles must have experienced all of these events.

Up until this point it seems the apostles' decisions to follow Jesus, to walk away from their former lives, leaving behind their friends and families, has worked out well. They spend their days learning new things as Jesus is constantly teaching. And they receive individual “tutoring” on the parables whenever they don’t understand. Of this I may have a little healthy jealousy, as I sometimes struggle to understand the parables! Plus the apostles have had front-row seats to witness incredible, miraculous healings. Everything seems to be going great! I imagine they are even patting themselves on the back right about now... 


And then ... seemingly out of nowhere … their world turns upside down. 

A little boat. A big storm. A terrifying day.
On what probably seems like a random day, Jesus suggests they sail across the sea. As former fisherman, sailing isn’t new for them, and I expect they’re very comfortable on the water. But they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a terrifying storm, scared for their lives.  To put this in perspective, the original word used in the Bible to describe this storm indicates it was one of hurricane proportion. Now I’m not very comfortable on the water so I recognize I may not be the best person to gauge fear levels when it comes to storms at sea. But even if you love the water, I suspect you don’t want to be in a little boat … in the middle of the sea ... in the middle of a hurricane! In fact, we learn from the passage that the apostles were terrified.

Eventually Jesus calms the storm, and they all make it to dry land. But the region upon which they come ashore is inhabited primarily by Gentiles, not Jews. This may not seem like a big deal now, but Jews and Gentiles did not associate at that time. So after surviving a horrendous storm at sea, their "safe landing" is actually in a location where many would say they shouldn’t be and where they are likely not welcome. And to top it off, they’re greeted by a violent, screaming, demon-possessed man. The apostles then stand by as Jesus expels 2,000 demons from the possessed man, and the surrounding crowds begin to beg Jesus and the apostles to leave. 

Hearts still racing.
I can only imagine this days' events were some of the scariest and most overwhelming that the apostles had yet experienced with Jesus. And then, with hearts that were likely still racing, and little time to process all they'd lived through, they had to return to their boat and set sail again. Yes, I presume this was the same boat … and the same water … where they had nearly drowned a short while ago.

Now none of the gospels describe the exact scene where the apostles realize they must choose to once again board the boat in which they'd nearly drowned, or stay on the land where they are not welcome and have just encountered a demon-possessed man, but I can’t imagine this was an easy, peaceful time for them. I imagine they were confused and anxious about all they'd just experienced. I suspect both choices left them feeling uneasy, or more likely fearful. I also know these negative feelings are often contagious and snowball quickly.

The Gentiles are begging Jesus to leave… so, the land on which they’re standing offers no peace.

The thought of returning to sea likely comes with flashbacks of that terrifying storm … so, the only choice before them offers no peace.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves in an upsetting situation and there are no desirable choices before us?

Storms of life.
I know of so many people who are walking through their own personal storms right now. God knows I’ve walked through my own as well. And I’m certain that as long as life continues, more storms will come our way. In fact, with this Coronavirus pandemic it's starting to feel like another storm is already upon us...

Whether they result from circumstances beyond our control, or from our very own choices, the storms of life often leave us without any desirable options and a host of upsetting emotions.
These storms strip us of confidence as we question our next step.
These storms bring anxiety, fear, and desperation.
These storms shatter our illusions of control.
And these storms threaten to steal our hope.

Shifting our focus.
Reflecting on these scripture passages, I am repeatedly drawn back to the question of how the apostles managed to board that boat while grappling the anxiety and fear caused by all they'd experienced that day. And I can only come up with one answer: They had to remain more focused on Jesus and the way He had previously carried them through the storm and less focused on their anxiety and fear. And I think most times, this is easier said than done.

The bigger the storm, the more deliberate we must be as we center our thoughts on Jesus and not the chaos around us. And when none of the choices before us are desirable, and our situation feels desperate, we must be intentional as we recall how Jesus has carried us through in the past. Otherwise, our fears can paralyze us. 

These are the times that prayer becomes even more important and we must regularly talk (and cry out) to God. We must intentionally seek out and surround ourselves with friends who will speak Truth, Hope, and Life into our circumstances. We must attend mass and spend time in Adoration when possible. We must work each day to identify all God is doing in our lives and express our gratitude to Him. For we are more likely to see Him and feel His peaceful presence if we’re actively looking to and for Him.

If you’re currently in a situation you didn't sign up for and are greeted each morning with a set of choices you don’t want … I’m so sorry you’re in this position.

If each day the storm seems bigger, more encompassing, as it touches new areas of your heart and life … I’m praying God wraps you in His arms and brings you peace.

And if you’re currently working hard to keep your head above water as you fight through the storm … I’m praying God helps you see how He has carried you in the past, so you can draw strength from those memories and more easily trust Him to carry you through again.
Right now as we’re faced with the unknown and constantly evolving circumstances surrounding this Coronavirus pandemic – circumstances that are throwing off normal life as we know it - I pray we can all remember He is still in control. I pray we all make smart choices that allow us to remain healthy. I pray that we’re graced with extra love and kindness, for our neighbors who may be experiencing heightened anxiety and fear, and our family, with whom we may be spending a lot of extra time 😉. And for all healthcare providers, myself included, I pray God keeps us safe and blesses us with knowledge, skill, and compassion.
Praying, as always, that God breathes life into these words...
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(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)

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