I grew up in Hawaii and during my junior year of high school I participated as a student teacher in an educational program that taught kids about Marine Biology. We took groups of students on a large sailboat for 4-hour excursions which included dredging for sedimentary samples on the bottom of the ocean floor, learning basic navigation, and casting a large net to gather and learn about the creatures of the sea.
Part of our volunteer work included helping the hired crew sail the yacht to each of the Hawaiian islands so we could offer this excellent program to students in schools throughout the state. I vividly remember the night we were sailing around the island of Maui. Two of us volunteers were on watch when suddenly a huge storm came up. Waves washed over the sides of the boat as my companion and I struggled to keep the wheel pointed in the right direction. The trained crew came topside to help us. The winds were so strong, they were blowing us off course. To avoid being swept overboard, we had to strap on harnesses and hook ourselves to the rails. We battled the storm for several hours before reaching the calm of a sheltered harbor.
I often think of this experience when I read the Gospel about Jesus and the disciples caught in the storm at sea. “He got into a boat and his disciples followed Him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but He was asleep. They came and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, ‘What sort of man is this, Whom even the winds and the sea obey?’” Matthew 8:23-27
The disciples had spent their lives on the sea, and surely they all knew people who had died in storms. They knew how dangerous these sudden squalls could be and how terrifying it is to be in a boat that is getting tossed about by the tremendous power of the wind and waves.
And yet Jesus was able to sleep through that storm! His disciples had to wake him up to get His help and He seemed surprised that they were terrified. He calmly addressed the elements and restored order and peace to nature, all to the utter amazement of His friends. So they marveled, “What sort of man is this, Whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
What can we learn from this episode? The year 2020 has been a stormy one in so many ways: a worldwide pandemic, natural disasters, racial tensions, economic crises, to name just a few. Many are plagued with worry and anxiety in these uncertain times feeling that the foundations we stand on are shifting and buckling beneath us.
For my own family, it has been the strain of unemployment that has rocked us. My sister lost her job at the start of the pandemic and my brother had been searching for work, even before lockdowns started. Trying to find work seemed hopeless since businesses were shutting down and people were being laid off. But we called out to the Lord, “waking” Jesus up with our prayers day after day asking Him to do the impossible. And Jesus heard our cries. My brother got a job with a company just days before it enacted a hiring freeze and my sister found good-paying work as a consultant.
Storms are never easy. In fact, they can be downright terrifying! But God is with us in every storm. Jesus is in the boat and never leaves our side. That is his promise: “I will never forsake you or abandon you” (Hebrews. 13:5), and that is his name: Emmanuel, “God with us.”
When it seems like the waves are going to swamp you and you feel vulnerable and alone, call out to God. Keep calling out, even if it seems like He is asleep. Look with the eyes of faith and you will see Jesus in the boat with you. Remember, “There is no one like God…who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33: 26-27).
No matter what the storm.