One Christmas, many years ago and many miles away from here, the local minister and his wife went Christmas shopping. Or rather, the minister's wife went shopping while the minister waited in his car in the car park. When the wife returned to the car some half an hour or so later, she found to her horror that her husband was slumped over the wheel unconscious. At the age of just 50, he'd died from a massive heart attack leaving her with three children, one of whom had Down's syndrome.


Like most clergy from any denomination they lived in a tied house, so as well as losing her husband in such a traumatic manner, the bereaved wife then had to start house hunting and leave the family home. And in order to support her family, had to start job hunting as well.


It was a time which sent shock waves throughout the whole community. Such stories are not particularly uncommon. Most people know somebody who has been through an unexpected experience of huge trauma when the world has suddenly fallen apart around their ears.


And most people have experienced for themselves some sort of trauma at some unexpected time, although it may not have been as dramatic as the story quoted above, but which nonetheless has come like a bolt from the blue and has sent them reeling.


Life is so very much like the Sea of Galilee on that beautiful, calm summer's afternoon, when the disciples with the best will in the world, took Jesus out for a sail to get him away from all the people who were crowding him.


As they lazed away on the sea under a cloudless blue sky, Jesus fell asleep, tired out by all his exertions and by the emotional demands of huge crowds of people. But out of that clear blue sky, a storm blew up from nowhere. One moment everything was tranquil and calm and peaceful and they were having a wonderful, relaxing time, the next everything was in turmoil.


Suddenly they'd been plunged into something terrifying. The quiet relaxation was torn from them and they found themselves plunged into the worst storm they'd ever known. And they weren't ready for it. They had no time to prepare, no time to notice that the wind was rising and perhaps they should begin to batten down the hatches. To go from clear blue sky to the middle of the worst storm you've ever known in the time it takes to blink, leads to terrible shock and panic.


You can't think straight, if you can think at all. You find yourself unable to make any decisions. You feel like you're floundering, drowning, for it feels like the waters are about to close over your head and you're going to be sucked under.


The disciples did their best to handle the situation, but the impression the story gives is that like anyone in such circumstances, they were flailing around unable to cope. And unbelievably, Jesus slept through it all. Through the entire maelstrom and the mayhem, through the terrible danger and the terrifying, panicky fear, Jesus lay on his cushions blissfully asleep, completely unaware of anything that was going on around him.


No wonder the disciples were furious. Shock and panic can make you feel like that. Just when they really needed him, he was absent, he was asleep. They needed all hands on deck to try to keep the boat afloat, to do their best to prevent what looked like an inevitable capsize with the drowning of all crew members.


They shook Jesus awake. "Don't you care?" they cried. "This is an emergency! If you don't get up and pull your weight we're all going under, we'll all drown."


But Jesus didn't do what they expected him to do. They expected him to leap to his feet and join the team, battling to take down the sail or bail out some of the water or grab the oars, but he ignored the boat completely.


He made no attempt to remedy the situation in the usual way of attending to the boat and making sure everything was watertight and shipshape. Instead, he ignored the boat and went straight to the heart of the matter, to the source of the problem. He commanded the storm to subside. And the disciples couldn't believe it. What sort of a man were they dealing with, who had power to still storms?


Jesus didn't make things the same as they were before. They could never be that, for the disciples were battered and changed by their terrifying experience. But after the storm things became calm again, even if they were calm in a new sort of way.


The disciples grew spiritually, for they received new insight into who Jesus was. They also discovered they hadn't quite as much faith as they'd perhaps thought they had, for when the chips were down they shrieked and screamed and experienced the same sort of terror as everyone else. But perhaps they were stronger because of the storm. Perhaps when the next storm arose, they were better able to deal with it. And perhaps too, when the next storm arose they were able to trust Jesus to somehow or other keep their heads above water.


Storms aren't quite so bad if you're expecting them. When the sky looks cloudy or dark, you can prepare. You can either shut all the doors and windows and refuse to budge, or you can venture out wearing rain gear so that you're protected to some extent. But life isn't always like that.


Like the Sea of Galilee, human life is a mixture of beautiful, calm, sunny days and terrible storms, and all conditions in between. When the storms come, often out of the blue, it may feel as though you're on your own, as though even God has deserted you.


But Jesus is always there. He may appear to be asleep, and he may not offer help the way we humans expect and want him to offer help. But if we ask him and trust him, he'll go straight to the heart of the matter, and calm the storm within you.


And it's through life's storms that we become stronger people, better able to handle the next storm, growing spiritually, towards God, through the pain and distress and difficulties.



A Prayer

Calming and reliable God,


When the storms break, I break too! Especially if the storm is sudden and unexpected, panic sets in and I find myself drowning, unable to breathe. And you may not be immediately there, at my side hushing my fears and making everything OK again.


Calming and reliable God, give me the faith I need to hang on in times of darkness and terror and despair. Help me to understand that when you calm my storms you may not necessarily do so in the way I want or expect, but will always do so in the way that is best for me.


Thank you, God.



A Time of Stress and Trauma

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