I have something I like to call a “crystal ball complex.” Whenever a new situation presents itself, I have to stop myself from declaring how it’ll likely all turn out. It’s not that I believe I can foresee the future. It’s that, for some time now, I’ve been a “worst case scenario” kind of girl. In many ways, I am idealistic beyond reason. I know what I want, and I will settle for nothing less. But on my journey to unearth and acquire those desires, I hoard self-protective contingency plans up the wazoo. No march into battle will begin until I have at least a dozen escape routes tucked inside my brain.
I wasn’t always like this. I grew up with no concept of “plan B,” and sure, my “plan A” left a lot to be desired. But it was mine. I was going to see it through, and nothing and no one could deter me. Shortly after the end of grad school, though, life—as it often does—began to kick me in the face, and to be perfectly honest, it hasn’t stopped since. Something happens to a person after years of looking for the next proverbial bullet to be shot into her chest: she grows a shield of caution and piles her plans behind it. She becomes hesitant and quiet and wary. She gets predictive.
And thus, a line of logic forms: if I can think of all the ways this might go wrong, I won’t be taken by surprise when it does. It’s the unknown that’s most alarming. Not so much the pain that follows—which must be endured slow and sick over time—but the sudden shock of the earth falling out from underneath you. The “ha ha, just kidding, this isn’t really a road.” You’re not getting married. You’re not getting published. You won’t make it to the end of your twenties before you lose your father. Drag yourself through enough things like that, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to start creeping around every corner, watching for whatever you might lose next.
A few weeks ago, as I was praying, I thought of the story in the Gospels when Jesus and the disciples sail across a lake, and a wild storm kicks up while Jesus is asleep. The waves begin crashing into the boat, and the disciples run to Jesus to wake him and say, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown.” Any time I’ve heard a sermon on this story, the focus is always on what comes after, when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves, and all grows calm. In Matthew, He says to His disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Or in Luke, “Where is your faith?” The story is treated as a condemnation of doubt. But I don’t believe Jesus meant these words the way we so often read them.
I keep thinking about the disciples’ declaration: “We’re going to drown.” It’s important to note who these men are. This isn’t their first time out at sea. Many of them have been fishermen their whole lives. They know what a storm means. They know what will happen when a boat takes on water. “We’re going to drown” is not, on the surface, a statement of doubt in God’s power. It is the logical conclusion based on everything they’ve experienced as fishermen thus far. Their prediction isn’t wrong, or it wouldn’t be in any instance prior. But what they do not yet understand is that everything is different now that Jesus is in the boat.
I’ve always resented simplistic statements like “just believe, and it’ll all be okay.” I resent them even more as I grow older and see how often things turn out to be not “okay.” I continue to struggle with the concept of hope, of trying to figure out how to pray for something to happen when I know full well that it may not. The rain can keep coming. The boat may tip over. My lungs might fill with water. How do I know? Because they have. But what I am challenging myself to consider lately is the same thing I believe Jesus was challenging His disciples to consider when He put a stop to the storm: why are you so afraid, and where is your faith?
I am afraid because I’ve seen all the ways it’s possible for things to go wrong, but has God not carried me down every one of those dark and thorny roads? He has, so where is my faith? If tragedy, time and again, has lit up my world like lightning, and still, my God has not forsaken me, I don’t have the right to declare, “I’m going to drown.” Not because I am guaranteed to live, but because the moment Jesus stepped into my boat, the plotline changed. Things became possible that had never been before, and my thread of logic must now make room for the God of the universe—the God who loves me—to intervene, however He may choose.
When Jesus asks His disciples, “Where is your faith?” He isn’t asking them to believe their lives will be without suffering. In many instances, He declares the exact opposite. In Matthew 10:16, He says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I think that second part is the key. Innocent as doves. We weathered sailors know how to be shrewd as snakes, to wind our way through this roughened world, to burrow in the ground and wait for danger to pass over. Where we struggle is with innocence. With leaving room for miracles. With entertaining the possibility that we do not know everything. This is where God challenges us—simply to allow the belief that the conclusion isn’t foregone.