Verses: Mark 4:35-41
“Am I ever going to fit anywhere? Does the perfect place for me even exist?” These are questions that go through my mind more often than I can count. I think I am constantly a “square peg in a round hole”, as my preacher used to say. I’ve only really felt like I fit one time, and that ended up being the place that broke my heart, more painfully and completely than any other time in my life. These are the thoughts that woke me up so early one day last week. 5 AM and nowhere to be until 10, but I couldn’t fall back asleep to save my life. So I got up and went downstairs.
My mom used to say when you couldn’t sleep it was because God wanted to talk to you. So I sat down on the couch, turned on the lamp, and made some coffee with evaporated milk because I had let myself somehow run out of cream. It had stormed the night before, with heavy winds and rain that made a gentle melody on the roof that had lulled me to sleep. This morning, the storm was over, but things were still kind of dark and wet outside, the sun not yet up.
I thought about the New Testament story when Jesus calmed the storm, and I thought about the past year or so, and I wondered if, now as things were trying to settle down, I would ever feel calm. The storms had settled down. Maybe it was even Jesus Himself who calmed those. But I wondered if, as he said “Peace, be still,” was he talking to the weather? Or was he talking to me? I wondered if there was more damage done by the outside storms, or by the inside storms. Scratch that, I didn’t wonder. I knew it was the inside every single time. I decided then to look the story up and read the specifics. Familiar as I was with the story, sometimes there are things that I miss because I assume I know the whole story from memory so I neglect the details. It can be found in 3 of the gospels, but the version I settled on was Mark 4:35-41.
In the passage, the disciples are with Jesus in the boat, and a storm comes up unexpectedly, with waves breaking over the sides of the boat, and Jesus is sleeping. The disciples woke him up, but I was surprised at what they said: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
By this point in the gospels, these disciples had seen a thing or two of Jesus. They had witnessed him driving out evil spirits, healing many people including a man with leprosy and another who was paralyzed. They had listened to his teachings, enthralled by what they were hearing and learning from him. They knew that he must have compassion for people because he was compelled to meet their needs and give them hope, and they knew that he had all power to overcome, but they didn’t wake him up asking in a tone that implies they thought he was just tired and if they asked they would instantly have what they needed. They asked in a tone of frustration. It would’ve been one thing for them to wake him up and say, “Uh, hey, Jesus, we knew you were tired so we let you sleep a little longer, but we could really use some help.” But that’s not what happened. They asked accusingly, “Hey, do you even care what’s happening to us?” Questions that I have asked before.
Verse 39 says, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” So now the outside storm is gone. The immediate threat is over, and everyone can settle down, right? Except that they don’t. In the next verse it says, “He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Notice that he didn’t ask them why they WERE afraid (past tense). He asked them, “Why ARE you still afraid?— present tense. And then in verse 41 it says, “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
There’s a lot here in these short verses, but the things that spoke to the storm in me that morning were first, that after all they had seen him do, they still weren’t convinced that he was going to help them this time, and next, that even when the storm was calmed, the disciples were not. They remained afraid. In an atmosphere that was now “completely calm” according to verse 40, they were still terrified.
I sat with those thoughts for a few minutes, and I asked God, “Why were they still afraid? They were safe now. The storm was over. They didn’t need to worry anymore. You did what they asked you to do. So why are they still afraid?”
And he answered me, knowing that what I was really asking was, “God why am I still so afraid?” He said, “They were still afraid because the storm was never the problem. The problem was that they didn’t trust me before the storm came.”
Because I’m a nerd and I love words, I looked up differences in the original Greek between the fear that the disciples were expressing in verse 40 and the fear they were expressing in verse 41. In verse 40 when they were afraid, the word used was “deilos” which is specifically a fear of losing something. In verse 41, the word used implies a fear that includes withdrawing, separating, and avoiding. They were afraid of losing something— maybe what he would ask of them? Maybe their lives? Maybe their futures? Who knows. But the second fear, the terror that they felt at his power, was a fear that might cause them to separate themselves. These are the types of fear that I have been dealing with in the past few months, years, maybe my whole life.
Something happened when I was a teenager that caused me to question the motivations of God. That made me wonder if, maybe, he sat in the sky with a big hammer waiting to squash everything and everyone that I loved. Waiting to take them away if I loved them too much. That was the fear of losing that has persisted and has colored my faith for as long as I can remember, always making me hold back just a bit more than I should, even as I prayed and asked God what he wanted for my future.
The second fear, the separation, is the result of that. As I have held back pieces of myself for fear of being hurt or destroyed, even when life would seem to prove to me that my motivations might be self-protective, I have separated myself from God. The fear has become a wedge, and even as the storms would be calmed and my prayers would be answered, there remained this vast chasm of absent trust that couldn’t be crossed. My mom used to say to me all the time, quoting scripture again, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” I have never trusted, really, that God’s love was perfect. If I did, the separation wouldn’t be necessary to protect myself. All along I’ve had this desire to believe and trust and hope, but in the back of my mind I was worried that if I allowed myself to do those things, the pain would be more than I could bear.
And it was. Praying for things to happen that never happened did erode my trust in God even further for a while. But something amazing happens when all of the people and places and relationships and things that you’ve held onto are stripped away. After the anger and the grieving and the questioning, you see what you’re left with, and you start to accept that maybe if these are the things that you’re left with, they are enough. You think that losing that person or that job or that church or that thing will be your undoing and that you won’t be able to live anymore without them, but you get out of bed the next day, take a shower, get dressed, and do the next thing. And before you know it there are a long list of days behind you, the proof that you’ve survived. The proof that the thing you thought would kill you didn’t have enough power to do it after all. The power is in what remained.
I still don’t have all the answers. I don’t think I ever will. It’s a day to day willingness to keep pursuing the answers that shows our commitment to God and each other. But I wonder if maybe I’m not the only one. I wonder if maybe there are parts of yourself that you hold back from God or from everyone else because of fear. I wonder if, instead of calming the storm on the outside, you need him to calm the storm in you. Here’s what I’m learning— after the storm has been calmed, and after you admit to yourself what you’ve been afraid of this whole time, then you’re free to ask the question that really matters. The question the disciples asked: “Who is this?” Figuring out the answer to that question, who Jesus is, is where the freedom from fear can be found. I don’t have a complete picture in my mind yet, but I’m starting to ask the questions that can bring freedom. I hope you’ll do it too. And we can both be a little less afraid.