I can see Jesus and his disciples in their boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, when a storm hits. It isn’t a nice storm, it is a rough one–even for seasoned fishermen—and while the disciples are being terrorized by the real danger of drowning, Jesus is sleeping. I imagine him in a hammock, enjoying the sway, like a caterpillar in his cocoon, dreaming nice dreams.
The disciples, though, reach a point in their experience where they refuse to wait for Jesus to wake on his own and they energetically wake him from his place of peace.
“Jesus! Why are you sleeping?! Don’t you know we are about to die? Don’t you care? Do something!”
Jesus wakes up, removes himself from his place of comfort, faces the waves and says, “Quiet! Be still!”
Then, once the storm is completely calm, he turns to his people and says, “You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?”
In my humanity, I don’t see what lack of faith has to do with that experience. The disciples found themselves in legitimate danger and they didn’t have control over the waves and the wind. They couldn’t rebuke the storm and make it stop. They didn’t know that death was not imminent.
I can juxtapose this story with another one in the gospels. The one where Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane praying in agony over what is to come. The disciples, on the other hand, are enjoying the coolness in the garden and the breeze. I imagine they are covered in a sense of safety, peace and calm, listening to the nighttime noises. Which is why they sleep, wrapped in their own cocoon, while Jesus weeps.
Christ is crying out to God, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me!” His spirit willing, but his flesh weak as he sweats blood in terror. Christ returns to his friends, longing for their comfort, only to find them all snuggled up and sleeping.
The disciples responded in both stories appropriately for what the external stimuli was throwing at them. The storm was real, it was big and it was dangerous. The only sane response to that is fear. Even in the garden, sleep is an appropriate response, albeit insensitive. It’s the middle of the night, it’s been a long day, it’s dark and quiet, sleep is an inevitable reaction, how were Peter, James and John supposed to know the devastation just around the corner?
External stimuli always affects us, as it should. It feeds us information about our safety and about who we are and where we are going. We can trust our gut. We can trust our knee jerk reactions. Yet, we don’t always know the fullness of truth through what is being presented to us.
I say that because as I look at the disciples in both circumstances, their initial reactions were right, but the reactions didn’t tell the whole story. Though they were in danger, they were safe, and though they felt safe, chaos was about to show itself. I am more and more certain that while I can trust my gut, it is also appropriate for me to test the temperature of God as well.
With my post trauma experience, I don’t respond how I ought to. I am always scared on some level. I don’t know what it means to feel safe. In times of legitimate crisis, I freeze and am immobilized and in times of safety I get agitated and anxious. It is stories, like the ones I have shared that have prompted me to meditate and ask God, “Where are you right now? What should I do? Do I need to be scared?”
I am not unsinkable. I am easily sunk and overwhelmed by circumstances. Things as small and inconsequential as a church service or too many questions at once will flood me with adrenaline and narrow my focus.
So, I assure you, I cannot walk on water. I can jump off a boat, sure enough, but I can’t stand on my own amongst the waves and I’m okay with that. Because with every rebuke that Jesus gave his disciples, it brought them a knowledge of God that they didn’t have before. Isn’t that what life is about? Knowing Jesus? Hearing his voice? Being his sheep?
I’m certainly no expert at recognizing Jesus’ voice any more than the disciples were, but I’d like to be. I’d like to find myself curled up with Jesus in his cocoon of a hammock while the waves crash and the boat rocks, feeling the peace that comes from breathing in sync. That is why I will keep seeking to find him and seek to hear him.
Where do you hear God’s voice most clearly? How do you intentionally practice listening?