How to Respond to Chaos: That Time Jesus Used a Pillow {The Grove: Chaos}

It was the pillow detail that stopped me.

It is a familiar tale.

After a full day of teaching a crowd by a lake, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.” So, Jesus and the disciples climbed into a boat and headed out. A storm came up. The disciples, capable fishermen, familiar with water, woke Jesus screaming over the squall, “Do you not care about us. At all?!” Jesus got up, told the storm to settle down, and then in the eerie quiet said, “Why were you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Terrified, the disciples asked each other, “Who is this? Even the weather obeys him.”

I noticed the cushion in Mark’s gospel. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” (Mark 4:38)

How many times have I heard or read about Jesus and the storm and never noticed the cushion? This cushion has grabbed my holy imagination as neither Matthew nor Luke mention it.

Our theme this week is Chaos. And what is chaos but the unexpected storm? The paralyzing fear “that the waves will sweep over the boat” (Matthew) or that you are “swamped and in great danger” (Luke).

Where is Jesus in the chaos? Sleeping. On a pillow.

In the past, when I read this story I identified with the disciples. In the midst of chaos, I can bail water, hustle, and scream with the best of them. But then Jesus said, “What if the pillow isn’t just for me? It is for you too. Will you join me on the cushion when chaos churns?”

It seems absurd, doesn’t it? It is fine for Jesus to sleep during chaos; he is, after all, Jesus. Jesus kept pushing me, as he does when he is making a point. “It was not God asleep, it was the very human form, the man Jesus, asleep on the cushion. Calm can be a human response to chaos.”

Several weeks later I was texting with Kimberly Todd and she threw in this detail, “I’m memorizing the calm Psalm (131).”

You can guess which word caught my attention. I texted back that I would join her even though I had not heard it called the calm Psalm before. “I think I may have just made that up. Smiley emoticon.” I think God is reinforcing his heart for us in chaos. A few days later Kimberly texted me a link to listen to the Psalm sung (listen here) and now I listen almost daily to the calm Psalm.

The Revised Standard Version calls Psalm 131 “A song of quiet trust.” It is part of the songs of ascent and was written by David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

The story of Jesus and the storm and Psalm 131 have been sitting together in my soul. Jesus calmed and quieted the storm and then he asked the disciples why they were afraid. Did they have so little faith? David calmed and quieted himself and asked Israel to put their hope in the Lord.

Both mention calm and quiet.

Both point to faith—hope—in the Lord.

Both create space for chaos, be it an unexpected storm or matters that are too great for us to understand.

Both show that calm can be a response to chaos.

Mark could have easily left out the cushion. Like Matthew or Luke, he could have simply said, “Jesus was sleeping” which would have still stood out as an unusual response to a violent storm. But he added the detail about the cushion.

David tells us he has calmed and quieted himself.

Too often, we think we need the storm to stop for us to be quieted and calm. But part of the good news Jesus came to proclaim is that external circumstances do not have to dictate internal responses. Of course we will still be influenced by life. We will be rocked by the storms. Jesus did not levitate in the boat, separated from the reality of the storm around him.

Having emotions in chaotic situations is good and a normal response.

Dealing with chaotic situations is good and a normal response.

Being calm in chaotic situations is also good and a normal response.

Jesus is asking you, “Will you join me on the cushion when chaos churns?”


This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

Here’s our Instagram collection from this week using #VelvetAshesChaos. You can add yours!


    1. Amy Young October 28, 2017

      Thanks Michele … off to check it out 🙂

  1. Phyllis October 28, 2017

    Thank you for this. It’s beautiful. I’ll add my favourite Amy Carmichael poem:

    “Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
    Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
    What matters beating wind and tossing billow
    If only we are in the boat with Thee?

    “Hold us quiet through the age-long minute
    While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill :
    Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it;
    Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?”

  2. Ashley Felder October 29, 2017

    Heard a recent teaching on this passage. The Teacher kept re-iterating the point that Jesus calmed the waters with a few simple words. My mind kept jumping to Him saying those words to ME during a storm. “Quiet! Be still!” Because isn’t my instinct to be loud, moan, and wail? What if my response instead was, like you said, to step back, sit next to Him, quiet my heart, and listen to what He’s about to take me through. Sounds dang near impossible to do, but I hope during the next storm that hits me, I remember to be quiet, calm, and still for at least a moment. Thanks for your words. Love when He hits a lesson home…again. 😉

  3. Ellie October 29, 2017

    I was reading this passage this week and I noted down “Jesus was not hypervigilant”! Amazing how God is often speaking to us all about these things at a similar time! 🙂

  4. Caroline November 15, 2017

    Wow! Just read this for the first time right now!
    Yet for the past 3 weeks God has been showing me the same thing about the pillow!
    What will I do in the storm? panic and try to hold the heaving boat together? Run around on the boat like a headless chicken? Jump into the waves in total despair? Berate Jesus?! all this and more?
    Or somehow make my way to His pillow and lay my head on His heart? He is asleep – because He trusts. He KNOWS that they will reach the other side. He is asleep. Jesus’ heart is not thumping with fear and adrenalin: His heart is beating SLOWLY. He is snoring, he’s so relaxed! As for me, I’m desperately afraid of drowning, soaking wet, confused. The pillow is damp. The storm is REAL. AND listen! Here is Jesus’ heart, next to my ear.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.