By Davis Melin
Wind sweeps across the surging waves. White caps collide with each other as beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the sea. Standing on my tiptoes, I’m held upright by the wind’s persistency. My arms stretch out naturally, embracing the sheer power of the sight before me, encapsulating me. After traveling thousands of miles for this Passages journey, I stand before the Sea of Galilee. “Jesus and his disciples traveled across these waters” I think to myself. “He walked upon these white caps; He calmed the storm before his disciples.” Wind continued to whip across my face as I walked back and forth across the shore. I called over to my friend. “Jon!” I said, “Wanna skip some rocks?” We stood before this aqueous force of nature, mediocrely skipping little, misshapen rocks. We tried to talk over the deafening wind but just kept shouting instead, “What did you say!?”
Walking back inside our hotel, both Jon and I looked like we’d put our heads out a car window traveling 100 miles per hour. We looked at each other and laughed, marveling at what had just happened: “Dude! The wind! The waves! The sun shining through the clouds!” I couldn’t help but think that what we had just experienced was still a mere fraction of the true power of the sea. It hadn’t even rained! Imagine strong wind and towering waves compounded by a sideways downpour, lightning sparking the night sky, and thunder so loud your heart shakes. The storm described in the Gospel according to Mark may have been such a storm:
A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But He was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die?” He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still no have no faith?” And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (HCSB, Mark 4:37-41)
As Jon and I literally encountered a storm, I thought of the figurative storms in my life: the uncertainties of my future career, broken relationships, and moments of my past I’d rather forget. Most significantly and rather unexpectedly, this school year I’ve been experiencing a lack of passion in my studies, specifically the drive to learn. For reference, my number one strength on Strength Finders is learning, characterized by: “loving to learn, loving the process of learning, and feeling energized by learning.” Learning new things is an important part of my life because it points me to Jesus: I feel close to God when He takes away the veil of ignorance to reveal His beautiful truth. Just as learning is a process, my passion to learn steadily regressed until one day I realized that I was no longer interested in my studies. With this realization, I felt as if my purpose had been stripped away, that my favorite way for God to draw near to me had dissipated. After a period of sadness and fear, I began to blame. I blamed my professors for teaching poorly and my classmates for seeming disengaged, thus affecting my desire to learn. I felt my identity, my figurative boat, sinking.
Reflecting more on the circumstances that got me into this storm, I realized that as with many other Christians in crisis, my identity, and more so, the loves of my life were misprioritized. I was filling myself with lots of head knowledge, not heart knowledge. I had ignored Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever comes to me will never be thirsty” (NIV, John 6:35). I was eating and drinking worldly food, worldly knowledge while not fully taking delight in God’s handiwork.
I would like to say that as of writing these words that the storm has passed, but I am very much still within the wind, waves, and pouring rain. In God’s grace, I am beginning to understand I am not in a single person kayak, braving the waters by myself; I am in a boat, with others who also have fears, who also face uncertainties, and who also at times lose the desire to do things that once made them get up each day. All of us, knowingly or unknowingly, are crying out to our Savior, pleading for him to save us from ourselves in our swamped, sinking, and fragile boats. But what if we stepped out of the boat? What if, like Peter as described in Matthew 14, we would be so bold to follow Jesus onto the tortuous water, fully embracing our failures, faults, and inability to fulfill our deepest desires? Just like Peter, we lose faith quickly and sink, crying out as Peter did “Lord save me!” Jesus extends his hand to Peter, to us, and says, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” My trust in His ultimate plan is bold one moment, and doubtful the next, just like Peter’s.
During this continued journey of faith and knowledge, I’m reminded by the words of pastor and author John Piper of what the purpose of learning is in the first place: “This life is not a place for proving the power of your intelligence to know truth. This life is a proving ground for demonstrating the grace and power and intelligence of the One who reveals truth." My prayer in this storm is not for discernment on a way forward, but rather for faith to rest in God’s unfathomable love, a love that is not simply based in knowledge but rather dwells in our hearts. Paul prays such a prayer in his letter to the church in Ephesus “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (ESV, Ephesians 3:17-19). Saint Anselm’s prayer succinctly summarizes this period of my life, and the asymptote of the Christian academic:
I am not trying, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness,
for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it,
but I desire in some measure to understand your truth,
which my heart believes and loves.
For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand.
My desire to learn will take time to regrow, and time to take its proper place in my life. My great comfort in this storm is that our Father is more powerful, and more loving than I can comprehend, beyond anything I’m able to learn. His unreachable truth has allowed me to rest in His grace and mercy, in full confidence that our Savior can calm any storm, figurative or literal.