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It was a dark and stormy night. Actually it’d been a series of dark and stormy nights. A decade ago I felt surrounded; challenging winds swirled all around.
It started, oddly enough, with a promotion at work.
Then a good friend died.
Not too long after my mother-in-law died too.
Long story short all this change messed me up pretty good. Week after week I averaged just a few hours of sleep each night. If you’ve ever struggled with sleep deprivation, for any amount of time you know: it can take a toll.
To get through these dark and stormy nights I tried all sorts of fixes, including pills for sleeping, anxiety, focus. None of it offered much reprieve. The storm raged on.
Early in the morning, some nights, as the first light of dawn began to poke through the window blinds, other possible antidotes would emerge.
Each grasp for insight culminated in the same plea. Dear God, take away these anxious, restless nights. Are you there, Jesus?
In the verses,
In the early morning light my eyes haven’t quite adjusted. You seem so far off, Jesus.
I fear, I doubt, I feel so alone.
I hope you’re there, Lord. But I really can’t tell.
Two millennia ago there was another dark and stormy night. Perhaps the disciples should have seen this one coming. Because life as a Christ-follower, at least for them so far, had been anything but smooth sailing.
Sure, there was Christs’ preaching and healing and performing of miracles. That was the good stuff. But there was more. Like getting run out of town by those pesky Pharisees, always trying to pin something on the crew. And let’s be honest – because of the provocative nature of the one they followed, their very lives were, on occasion, at risk. Knowing *that* couldn’t have been fun.
Right before today’s text Jesus was busy healing and feeding the five thousand. That mission now accomplished, Jesus then departs, going up the mountain to pray. Just get on the boat and go on ahead, he asks of the twelve.
Sans Jesus, surrounded by darkness, the sea winds whipped. The waves crashed. The boat began to toss.
The kingdom of heaven had come near.
The disciples knew that.
But did it have to be so hard?
If you’ve ever been on the water in a small vessel when the winds gust, for any amount of time you know: it can take a toll. Especially when you can’t see a thing.
The disciples presumably tried all sorts of hoped-for fixes to get them through. Perhaps they split up to better distribute their weight; six starboard side, six portside. When the water started coming in – the waves were battering the boat after all – maybe they formed a bucket brigade to get that water out.
No doubt they too said some prayers. LORD MAKE THIS STORM STOP!
JESUS, WHERE ARE YOU? Yet their prayers, for now it seemed, went unanswered.
For the winds, throughout that night, carried on.
And sleep? In the middle of all this? Good luck with that.
Then, early in the morning, after a rough night, the first light of dawn emerged. The disciples saw a figure in the distance. It walked toward them, step by step, as best they could tell, right on the water.
Some proclaimed, it’s a ghost!
They felt terror.
For in that faint light the disciple’s eyes hadn’t quite adjusted. They didn’t know who, or what, it was that approached.
Are you there, Jesus? They hoped. But they really couldn’t tell.
My dark and stormy nights of a decade ago eventually came to an end. At the encouragement of my wife I finally went to a psychologist. And was diagnosed with a major depressive episode. Within days, and with the help of the right prescription, the darkness began to lift. Anxieties eased. Sleep full nights returned. Healing was happening. “I’m back!” I remember thinking. Thanks be to God!
Reflecting on this, with the benefit of time, I now see the experience with new eyes. While I didn’t sense it then, Christ had been fully present through it all.
Present through the love and patience of my wife, who stayed by my side when times were tough.
Present through calls and visits from friends, willing to accompany me through the pain.
Present through the wisdom of a skilled psychologist, who within 15 minutes spoke with clarity. “I know this problem,” she said confidently. “You are clinically depressed. We can do something about that.”
I hadn’t been alone after all. Daylight, in the midst of the storm, was seeping in everywhere.
Frozen in fear, the twelve watched in horror as the figure approaching atop the water spoke. “It is I,” the voice said. “Jesus. Do not be afraid.”
But the disciples, well, they weren’t so sure. Their eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the early morning light.
“If it is you,” Peter replied, “Command that I also walk on water.”
Jesus responded with one simple word. Come.
So Peter did. And Peter recognized. Peter walked the waters toward his Lord.
But then Peter lost focus, turning his gaze from Christ to the winds that whipped all around.
Again he became frightened.
And he began to sink.
And Jesus reached out, caught Peter, keeping him safe.
“Oh you of little faith,” Jesus wondered, “why do you doubt?”
The two then returned to the safety of the boat, and the winds ceased.
And the twelve knew, in that moment, their eyes were fixed on nothing less than the Son of God.
In AD2020, the year of our Lord, we’ve been riding out quite a storm, haven’t we? It’s been a series of dark and stormy nights. And has been, for months now.
And that’s to say nothing of toilet paper shortages and murder hornets.
All set against the backdrop of a political season unlike any our country has ever known.
We’re riding out a 100-year storm of a lifetime.
So it’s natural for us to be worried.
To be anxious, afraid, even cry.
Recent research from the Kaiser Foundation finds that 37% of US adults right now are reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. That’s up from 11% just a year ago.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Please reach out for help, or feel free to connect with me. With the right treatment that particular storm can pass.
Michelle Obama recently said she’s suffering from a low-grade depression of late, caused, in part by the pandemic. Perhaps we’re all experiencing a touch of that as well.
To calm our anxieties we may find ourselves praying it all goes away.
We may desire that these problems just poof, magically disappear.
Dear God, make it stop.
Give us our vaccine.
Revive our economy.
Restore peace in our streets.
Get kids in our schools.
Make it like it was, before.
For we’re looking out at the wind, and the waves, the darkness that envelops. And let’s be honest, it can be tough to imagine what it will take to see us through.
Yet while the storms still rage – and it seems they will for some time, despite our hopes for a quick fix – daylight approaches. If we faithfully turn our eyes just so, we just might see our Lord, present with us –
In the scientists, busily working on vaccine.
In our doctors and nurses, caring for numbers increasing still.
In our neighbors, donning their masks in public to keep us safe.
In protestors, naming racial injustices that go back over 400 years.
In friends and family, staying close by text, phone, Facetime, Zoom.
Is that you Lord? Present in the front-line workers, the masks, the protests? Keeping us safe in the storm?
Fred Rogers, he of Mr. Rogers neighborhood, says this:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
Helpers – sometimes we are them, other times we’re aided by them, serve as nothing less than little Christs. And those little Christs right now are everywhere.
For just as the disciples were never alone that dark and stormy night – they had each other, and the safety of the boat – neither are we. Christ was present with them, and through them, and made sure they knew it.
Dear Lord, thank you for being with us in these difficult, downright depressing times. While storms still linger, lead us through this dark night. Guide our thoughts, words, and deeds. Cast aside our doubts, fears, anxieties. Help us to see you, in and through each other. For when we look upon your light, and have faith, we are never, ever alone. Amen.