Jesus Stills a StormMark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Friends, I wonder. How is it with your soul? Now, that’s probably not a question that you get asked every day, but I think it’s one that we should think about a little more often. Because “How is it with your soul?” means a lot more than “How are you,” which has become an empty phrase in today’s society. Normally, when someone asks, “How are you?” they are not looking for a long explanation; they are just being polite. But if you were to ask someone, “How is it with your soul?” I think you would probably stop a few people in their tracks.
“How is it with your soul?” is a question we avoid because asking it–or simply contemplating it ourselves–forces us to take a real look inside and, to be honest, answering the question truthfully may lead us to admit that we are not doing as well as we want others to know. The truth is, folks, life is messy, and as human beings, we all carry with us our fears and insecurities along with all kinds of worry and doubt. That is why many times, “How are you?” “I am fine,” seems a whole lot easier. But we all know that sometimes we are not fine. Sometimes we struggle, and we usually try to hide our fears and our doubts, blaming them on someone or something else rather than taking ownership of them ourselves.
This past week, my husband and I were in the car driving up I-95 near Providence, and the sky looked downright eery. It was almost dusk, and the sky was an orangey-brown. Up ahead, we noticed that the sky was turning black when suddenly giant raindrops started to fall. Within moments, the wind began to blow, and the sky lit up with flashes of lightning. The rain came down so fast and furious, the windshield wipers could not keep up, and huge puddles covered the highway. Some cars pulled over to the side, while others slowed down and turned on their flashers. Storms like that take total control of anything and everything in their path, and all we could do was just wait for the storm to pass. As we continued down the highway, the sky looked brighter ahead, and as we entered the S-curves in Pawtucket, there was a giant rainbow stretching across the sky. I took a deep breath, thankful that the storm had passed, smiling at the colors across the sky. Then I closed my eyes for a moment and thanked God for bringing us safely through.
The truth is, we often find ourselves in the middle of storms. Some are actual weather events with wind and rain and lightning, while other storms are personal times of fear or struggle, exhaustion, grief, or loss–moments when we lose control of our lives, our souls are struggling, and we are filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. But it’s in the midst of all of those storms that we need to find grounding in our faith and stand firmly on the foundation that we have built our lives on. Those are also the times when we may wish that we had been asking ourselves, “How is it with your soul?” on a more regular basis.
There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus and his disciples out on the Sea of Galilee. While they were out in their boat, a storm arose. The wind blew, and the waves beat against the boat, and the disciples were frightened! They looked for Jesus and found him sleeping in the back of the boat. They quickly woke him and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we’re perishing?” That’s when scripture tells us that Jesus awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace. Be still.” At his words, the wind ceased, and the waves stopped.
Now like many stories in the Bible, this story can be heard and understood in many different ways. It is easy to focus on the wind and the waves as the issue in the story. After all, we have all found ourselves stuck in a storm at one time or another. And we understand why the disciples were afraid and why they woke Jesus up to stop the storm and keep them safe. We understand it because we identify with the disciples. After all, if we were in a storm like that, we would probably react in the say way, don’t you think? Well, luckily for the disciples, Jesus awoke and saved the day. He calmed the storm and the disciples felt safe again. But somewhere deep inside, there is something that I’ve always wondered about. When Jesus said, “Peace. Be still,” who was he really saying that to? Was it to the wind and the waves or was it to the disciples themselves?
Though in the story, Jesus began by commanding, the wind and the waves to stop, the next thing that Jesus did, was not to comfort the disciples, but rather he challenged them. “Why were you so afraid,” he asked. “Have you still no faith?” Friends, we all find ourselves in the midst of storms and conflicts and struggles in our lives. And when we are in situations like that, it is easy to blame the weather or the words and actions of others just like it was easy for the disciples to blame the storm for making them feel afraid rather than focusing on their lack of faith. But what we really need to do is to stop a little more often and ask ourselves, “How is it with my soul?” Because though we blame the wind and the rain, or the comments other people make, or the situations that we find ourselves in, our reaction to the storm and our ability to ride it through comes from the condition of our soul and the stress and negativity and doubt that we are carrying.
So friends, in the week ahead, find a little time each day to ask yourself, “How is it with my soul?” Because sometimes, the storms that cause us the most trouble are the storms that we carry within.