I was tired last week. It was a busy and heavy week at work. The kids’ Spring sports are wrapping up, as is school, and life is extremely busy. There were a lot of acute factors that had me feeling worn down, but as I sat with a trusted sage, mentor, and friend on Thursday afternoon and shared how I was feeling, I realized that it was more than just a busy schedule.
We have all been worn down over the last number of years, and I am no different from anyone else. A pandemic, news of war, economic uncertainty, political polarization, and a rapidly changing culture that sometimes seems to be eating its own tail will eventually impact even the most resilient among us.
In that moment as I was speaking, I was searching for something more than a break. My heart was seeking respite from the battle. Somewhere far away from the barrage of pressures and anxieties that seem to now be part of everyday life.
My heart was looking for a safe harbour.
In the conversation with my friend, a truth that I struggle to grasp came forward: there is no safe harbour, except for life in Jesus.
As a person of faith, I understand this on an intellectual level. But what I realized in this moment was that in my heart, I am not sure I fully trust that living life in relationship with God that I will be fully taken care of.
I admit that there is a part of me that longs for 2019 – for a sense of normalcy (though it is probably only through the lens of the last two years that would make the pace of life pre-2020 seem ‘normal’).
I recently started reading John Eldredge’s new book, Resilient. I’m only a few chapters in at this point, but Eldredge beautifully captures that desire for something past using an example from Lord of the Rings. He notes that we all want to live in the part of the story taking place at Bilbo’s party, but the story moves on, and as we go forward and face our present and prepare for what lies ahead, wishing we were back at the birthday party does not do us a lot of good.
Navigating the Waves
Reflecting on this idea over the last week, I remembered the saying, attributable to American author, John A. Shedd: “A ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
A life of Christian faith is not meant to be an easy life. I am sometimes tempted to treat God as a genie that should grant my wishes and make my life easier. But this is clearly not the way the Father operates. Thinking of my own children, if I immediately gave them everything they asked me for, they would become spoiled and their growth would be stunted by the immediate gratification.
As a dad, one of my primary duties as my kids get older is to equip them for the world lying in wait for them. I am doing them no favours if I am simply their wish-maker. I experience this same dynamic in relationship with God. As I want to see my children grow to become thriving adults, the Father also wants me to grow. Navigating the storms of life is part of that growth process. There will always be adversity and rough seas, but it is important to remember that I am not alone in it.
So perhaps Jesus is not the safe harbour. He is even better than that. He knows that our lives were not meant to be lived in the shelter of the port. But instead of wishing us well as we head out to face the seas of life, He gets in the boat with us and stays with us through the toughest tests.
A colleague was kind enough to lend me a print that currently hangs in my office of Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The original was painted in 1663 and depicts the scene from the Gospel of Mark in which the disciples are terrified in the midst of a violent storm. In Mark’s account, the disciples wake Jesus, who calms the storm, leaving the disciples in awe (Mk 4:35-41).
I love this story, but what I love most about the painting is the state of the disciples. Some of them appear to be trying to get control of the boat, while others have turned in desperation to Jesus, who does not seem to be terribly fussed, despite the chaos around Him. My favourite guy is the one who appears to be getting sick over the side of the boat – he is a character I can often relate to.
To me, the painting captures the call to Christian life, especially during difficult times. We can hope for the storms to be calmed at any moment, but the call is always into the deeper waters. Into the unknown and the uncertain. In the moments when I long for the quiet of the port, I must remember that life is not about finding safety and safety and security apart from Jesus. And Jesus is out there in the waves.
The storms of life are never linear and constant. They come and go, each eventually passing. With each passing storm, we grow in resilience and experience that will serve us well in the next storm. I have experienced this as a husband, father, and in my career. When we face the storms in life and seek the graces needed to endure, we learn more about ourselves and what we are capable of doing when we align ourselves with God.
Hope in the Horizon
Despite all of life’s challenges, we are called to hope. Not a hope that things will return to normal or that we will all get to go back to the birthday party at the beginning of the story. The story has moved on and further tests and challenges await. But there is hope in what lies beyond. Hope in the victory already won.
Life has its challenging moments and seasons. This last season has been challenging for me, as I am sure it has for many of you. That said, I am so grateful for my life, my family, and the opportunity to navigate the challenges that life brings. I am grateful to help my kids navigate scraped knees, tough losses, and big emotions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Like everyone else, I feel the strain of trying to steer through an increasingly turbulent world. And while I long for things to settle down, I also grapple with the possibility that maybe they won’t. Maybe things will get worse, and then what? The more I reflect on it, I realize that there is no choice but to continue in a spirit of hope, as hard as that can be sometimes. Because what is the alternative? To give into despair? To run away? If not hope in God, where else can we go?
There is hope that lies beyond the horizon, but we will never get to our destination if we are constantly seeking safety from the waves or if we are too afraid to head out to sea. It takes courage to do so as we know from experience that we will get battered at least some of the time. But we can be confident that no matter what is happening around us, when we choose to fully engage in life and to seek relationship with God, that He will remain with us. Sometimes it is only in looking backwards that I notice the work God is doing in my life. But He has brought me through all the storms I have faced thus far and I trust He will again.
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