“[Jesus] came toward them walking on the sea…when they saw him… they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke…’Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’. He got into the boat with them and the wind died down…” (Mark 6:48-51)
The disciples were terrified. Despite their familiarity with the ways of the sea and the wind, and their long experience with sudden storms, they were overcome with terror over what they were witnessing. Moreover, even though they knew Jesus, his appearance and his ways of speaking and acting, when fear rose up powerfully within their hearts, they couldn’t recognize their familar friend and companion. Fear had blinded them.
So it is with us sometimes. When the circumstances and experiences of life throw us into a panic, we lose sight of our Lord and Savior who loves us with his life, and would withhold nothing good from us; our Good Shepherd who wisely and sovereignly provides for our every need. The things we know about Jesus and which we adhere to in faith, evaporate from our thoughts and emotions. We can see only the storms of life, and fear their effects. “What if…?” becomes our focus. We’re just human, of course – frail, limited, scarred by past wounds. We’re creatures of “little faith” (Mt. 14:31).
Jesus responds immediately to his disciples’ fears, reassuring them that, no matter what’s going on around them, he remains constant, even when they’ve lost sight of him. He draws close to them, comforting them by his presence as well as his words. He reveals his sovereign rule over the storm, causing them to be “astounded”. Why were they astounded? They had seen the multiplication of loaves and fishes when Jesus fed the 5,000, but St Mark tells us, “they did not understand about the loaves because their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:52).
Is that why I lose sight of Jesus when I’m fearful – because my heart is hard? A hardened heart is one that is defensive, self protective, self reliant, unbelieving and untrusting. I will readily admit that’s me sometimes; that I fail to be able truly to believe that I will be actually be taken care of when things are hard, that I’ll be all right. And so I fail to trust.
My experience proves to me that I actually will be okay, no matter what happens; that even the worst and most terrible storms in my life don’t have the power to separate me from the love of Jesus (see Romans 8:38-39). Sooner or later (often later), I will see how he was with me the whole time, reassuring me of his Presence and care, and making a way for me when I was sure there was no way.
It’s hard to do, but I have been trying to remember to thank God for the storms, for I know they are opportunities to practice growing in the habit of remembering God’s faithfulness. They’re times to exercise my “trust muscle” and thereby grow stronger. Just like with his disciples, Jesus knows how to shape and form us to more closely resemble him. He knows how much we need him and his grace, and he promises us exactly what we need.