Surviving the Storms in Life
Living through crisis
What a storm it was! A hurricane moved in from the Bahamas. A cold front moved in from Canada, while a warm front approached from the Great Lakes to the west. All of these converged on the coast of New England in the last few days of October 1991.
Sebastian Junger in his book called it the "perfect storm." Not that a storm is good, but measured by other storms it stands as the ultimate. For more that 48 hours, that storm battered the New England coast with winds of 200 miles an hour and waves that measured up to 90 feet.
It was a storm like that on the Sea of Galilee that Mark described in our text for today. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and measuring only four miles across, the Sea of Galilee was a prime target for the most ferocious onslaughts of nature. The purpose of Mark's record of this storm certainly emphasized God's power over nature. The continuing lesson for us is more about the storms we face in our personal lives and Christ's ability to see us through them.
No on can escape such storms. Our goodness or our faith cannot insulate us from the common experiences of life. Tragic events come into our lives regardless of who we are. And they sometimes strike so suddenly. Arthur John Gossip, the renowned Scottish minister of another generation, preached his famous sermon, "When Life Tumbles in, What Then?" the Sunday after the sudden death of his wife.That is always the question, "What Then?" How do we survive the crisis?
My first suggestion is that we survive by affirming who we are in the midst of the storm. Paul Tillich, the theologian, in his book The Courage to Be set forth the view that the "ultimate courage is to affirm our being against all the threats of nonbeing." That sounds terribly academic. The reality, however, is what we face every day. The forces of non-being confront us saying, "You are nobody— you don't have a right to exist." To affirm who you are as a child of God is the greatest power we have to resist such threats.
There is a story about a Zen priest in China when the warlords were plundering villages at the early part of the 20th century. When this particular village heard that the warlord was headed toward them, all of the people fled to the hills—except one priest. When the warlord arrived, he inquired if any one was left in the village. The answer was, "Only the priest in the temple." The warlord commanded, "Bring him to me." When the priest was brought into his presence, the warlord drew his sword and cried, "Do you know who I am? I am he who can run you through with this sword and never bat an eye." The Zen priest gave his reply, "Do you know who I am? I am he who can be run through with your sword and never bat an eye." I wish I had that kind of self-assurance to face up to the threats in my life, don't you? I am not there yet, but I am trying to get there.
In the second place, to survive the storms of life one needs a strong sense of where we are going with our lives. Christ called his disciples to mission. They were in the storm because he said, "Let us go to the other side." We don't know what was on the other side. All we know is that Christ did nothing without a purpose. If the disciples had not been on mission with their Lord, they could have escaped the storm.
Isn't it true that we bring many of the storms into our lives because we are trying to do something worthwhile in the world? Responsibility always involves risk. I have asked couples in pre-marital counseling, "Why do you want to get married?" Many of them reply, "To be happy." Then I tell them, "Don't do it." That shocks them, but I tell them that they could probably be a lot happier if they remained single. They could spend their money the way they wanted to, go anywhere they wanted to and do with their time exactly what they wanted to. Happiness comes as a by-product of a higher purpose for their relationship. Marriage is never easy— it can become an ordeal—but it is the best way to grow as a person. In an intimate relationship, we can discover the joy of developing a self and offering it to help the person we care about.
This is equally true about parenting. If you want to be happy, don't have children. It is not easy to take a child's life into your hands and help that child become a mature self. When my youngest son was born, I walked into the hospital room and was greeted by my wife's words, "Honey did you know that we are going to have teen-agers for the next twenty years?" Comforting thought, wasn't it? The deeper joy, however, has been to see all of our four children develop into a maturity and purposefulness that makes us glad that we paid the price.
Joseph Campbell encouraged us to "Follow your bliss." I like the idea, but I am also fully aware that bliss cannot be experienced without going through some pain to acquire it. The word passion comes from the Latin root " passio" which means to suffer." Or as they say in AA, "No pain --no gain."
Ilya Prigogine, the eminent scientist, observed, "Any structure—whether at the molecular, chemical, physical, social or psychological level—that is insulated from disturbance is also protected from change." That means that if we are content to remain static without any positive growth, we had better try to avoid all risk.
The most important resource for surviving the storms of life is to remember who is with us in the midst of the storm. The disciples in their terror forgot that. Christ was with them and guiding them safely to the other side. To what abysmal depths their faith sank when they awoke him with the words, " Do you not care that we perish?" What horrific words were those. How could they question his caring in light of all that they had witnessed? He had healed the sick, fed the hungry, given solace to those in grief. Their insensitivity must have cut him to the core. They lost their trust momentarily. His strong words brought them back to faith in his power to see us through. Later on they would hear his words, "Go into the world…and lo, I am with you to the end of the age." With their renewed faith they went out and told the story that has changed the world.
Wilcox, a poet of another generation, wrote of her storms and her
I will not doubt though all my ships at sea
Come drifting home with broken masts and sails,
I shall believe the Hand that never fails,
From seeming evil worketh good for me.
And though I weep because those sails are battered,
Still will I cry, while my best hopes lie shattered,
I trust in Thee.
In the beginning of my homily I mentioned Arthur John Gossip's powerful sermon preached after his wife's sudden and tragic death. Here are two quotes from that sermon:
"Those who live in the sunshine may have faith, but those of us who walk in the shadows must have faith."
"Peace does not come with the absence of troubles, but with the conscious realization of adequate resources."
Our resources will be adequate if in the midst of the storms we affirm who we are, remember what we are here to do and claim the presence of the One who never leaves us.
First preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN, in June 2000.
Copyright © 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church