For Uncertain Times

By Joseph Delamerced '22



That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”


Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)


 

“Do you think God would make everything feel so unclear?”


Today is February 23, 2020. In 18 days, on March 12, President Christina Paxson will make the announcement that classes at Brown University have been cancelled. In 20 days, on March 14, an individual at Brown will test positive for COVID-19. In 22 days, on March 16, I, along with many other students of the Brown community, will leave campus.


But today is February 23. I don’t know that yet.


In fact, the lack of knowledge about most things on the horizon is what’s bothering both me and my friend, Jimmy. This morning, he and I went to church. This afternoon, we studied in Wayland Square. This evening, we are talking about the future in the Ratty, a beloved cafeteria at Brown.

I am a sophomore. I am worried about what I’m doing this summer. I want to feel productive, but I’m not sure how to do that. I’m also concerned if I’m taking the right direction with my concentration and my career. All the while, there’s a voice in my head that keeps reminding me, “Hey, whatever you do, someone will judge it on your resume. And it won’t look impressive.”


Jimmy is a senior, and he is one of my closest friends. At the moment, he really needs a job. Every week in Core Group, he asks for prayer for a job offer or something that goes beyond an interview. Every week, we pray for him.


As we eat together, I continue digressing my thoughts. “I’m not sure if what I’m doing is what I should be doing.”


“Neither do I,” Jimmy chuckles in reply.


There’s a moment of silence. I eat my Ratty hot dog quietly. In a week and half, the food in the Ratty will be wrapped in tin foil. I will be unhappy about seeing my hot dog wrapped in tin foil. But for now, I do not know that. All I know is that tonight, I’m with Jimmy, and we’re talking about the future.


“Hold on — what do you want to do?”


I raise an eyebrow at him. “I told you. It’d be nice to help people,” I say. “But I’m not sure what that exactly looks like.”


He rests his head on his hands. “Have you thought about…”


He rattles off a number of different occupations. I nod my head to almost everything he says. These aren’t new thoughts, but it’s good that someone is here to talk to about what’s on my mind. For a while, silence returns.


And then: “Do you remember what happens when Jesus calms the storm?”


Again, I raise an eyebrow. I thought we were talking about our life paths.


“If I remember right, the disciples get on a boat, a storm happens, and, y’know,” I pause for a moment. “Then, Jesus calms the storm.”


“Yeah,” he replies. “What else do you remember?”


“Well, Jesus got mad at the disciples at one point,” I continue. “He was asleep, and they knocked on Jesus’ door. He woke up and was all, ‘Ye of little faith,’ and then, y’know, calmed the storm.”

Jimmy nods and then asks, “What did the disciples do right?”


“Well—” I pause. “They cried out to God, right?”


“Right. Why was Jesus upset, then?”


“Well… huh.” My face contorts in confusion. What’s Jimmy trying to get at? I gather the few operating brain cells I have left and try to think. “In other books in the Bible, Job calls out to God, Psalms has all these things about crying out to God—”


“But in this story, Jesus is upset. Why?”


I can’t quite think. “I suppose because the disciples didn’t trust that God could save them.”

He sits. I know he’s about to say, “Maybe.” He likes doing that.


“Let’s start over. What was the best thing the disciples did?”


“Asking Jesus for help,” I affirm.


“Well, no,” he counters. “It was before that. Pull it up on your phone — I think the story’s in Mark.”

My brow furrows. “I’m not sure. What else could they have done?”


Jimmy smiles. He points to the first verse.


“They got on the boat, Joey.”


After a whole day of preaching, Jesus tells his disciples, “We need to cross.” It is evening, the disciples are tired, Jesus is tired, and everyone just wants to sleep. But still, Jesus holds: “We need to travel across the sea, now.”


If the severity of this notion is not impressed upon you, allow me to remind you that it is nighttime. The disciples cannot see well. They can hope that the boat is guided correctly, but if a storm hits, they have no idea where they might end up. With some of the disciples being fishermen, they already know that this may be a foolish idea. It is more than likely that they can see storm clouds beginning to form.


The disciples move toward a boat, still. Jesus gets on first, and the disciples follow. Not a single one raises a question toward Jesus about crossing the sea at night. They know, simply, that they should get on the boat because Jesus will be with them.


And so, they begin their evening journey.


As they travel across the sea, a storm arrives. The disciples, understandably, panic. They ask Jesus, who is getting some much-needed shuteye, to wake up. He wakes up, tells the storm to cease, and goes back to sleep.


“Who is this?”, the disciples ask. This man is Jesus, both fully human and fully divine. Jesus’ rest in this story points to His divinity, as no human being could be resting in such a storm. Jesus knew, through divine wisdom, that He and the disciples would be safe. And even when his disciples panicked and lacked the faith to trust that God would carry them through this storm, Jesus still helped his friends. He calmed the storm. He alleviated their fears.


Amidst the anxieties and panic surrounding COVID-19, I’d like to hold onto this confidence. We’re on the boat with Jesus. Yes, a storm is hitting, and the storm is incredibly chaotic. But, again, and I’m going to say it a couple of times — Jesus is already on the boat with us. Even if you don’t know that He’s in your boat, He is waiting for you to knock on the door.


In the middle of the storm, we’re definitely going to worry. That’s OK. It’s almost unavoidable as human beings. So many times in the Bible, we see examples of people just crying out to God because they’re panicked and confused. Remember, though, you can’t get through the storm alone. Even the disciples’ skills — especially considering some of them are adept fishermen — couldn’t save them. Nothing they could do mattered as much as what God could do. That’s why they knocked on Jesus’ door in the first place.


Only Jesus could save them. He was the only one who could rebuke the winds. Who is Jesus to be asleep during a storm, wake up groggily, and then simply command the winds to stop?

He’s the Savior and our Comforter. And now, more than ever, it would do us well to remember that we are on the boat with Jesus. Even if you feel like you’re sailing out into the middle of a storm, you need to remember: Jesus is with you.


That’s it. That’s all you need to know. How often do we feel lost, in the middle of a storm? How often does it feel like we’re banging at the door, asking God to wake up because nothing seems to be changing? We’ve given it all we’ve humanly can to try to save the boat, and we’re about to go down. Everything that could go wrong — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — has gone wrong. The boat is about to break.


But when did we forget that the door we are knocking at is God’s door? We should feel this comfort knowing that God is there, in our boat, ready to speak to the winds and say, “Be still.”

So what do we take away from all of this? This story, for us, is indicative of where we place our faith and how we can feel reassured in times of crisis. Do you believe Jesus is on your boat? Could you or I have such confidence?


Surely, if you’re willing to tell me that you are Christian, you must. Because in this story, there are other boats at sea. Many more are facing the storm. In the midst of this pandemic, are you so willing to turn a blind eye to your neighbor in need? I agree that you need to “put your mask on before helping others,” but how long have you been taking to help yourself? Have you even looked around to see who else needs help?


As soon as the move-out date was advanced, I panicked. I realized I only had a day instead of a week to pack as my flight got pushed up. I already was upset to see Brown cancelled, but now, I just felt so deflated. I started to emotionally break down. I thought of how online classes, especially one like organic chemistry, would be miserable. I looked around my cluttered, messy room and felt that I had almost no energy to pack. Then, I realized I had to say goodbye to everyone in one day. I had to say goodbye to Jimmy.


I didn’t think a storm like this would come along. Sophomore year was already hard enough. To cap it all off with a global pandemic somehow seemed both appropriate and entirely ridiculous. My mental state was crumbling, and I felt as if I was struggling to just breathe.


Yet it was at this moment when the group chat for The Branch lit up. All of the older students said they were willing to give rides to the airport. Medical students provided storage in basements and in already cramped apartments. Those living off-campus or in the Providence area even offered a place to crash in case flights could not be rearranged. Leadership sent an email with a spreadsheet of people in The Branch community who could help in a number of ways, and it also included verses of encouragement. At one point, someone asked if anyone else was willing to split an Uber to Boston Logan, thinking that rides were only being given to the PVD Airport. Immediately, another replied, “Why pay? I’ll drive.”


I don’t know why I felt like I was alone in the storm. But I am blessed knowing that someone nearby called out, “Hey! God is with us in this storm. Rest assured that He is here. Is there anything else that you need help with?”


This is how we need to respond. We should have a healthy amount of concern combined with Christian love and action. I encourage you, reader, to reach out and help your neighbors in need. This is not limited to giving a ride to others to the airport, but it is an excellent and admirable start. There are cascading implications about how COVID-19 will affect us: job security, education, home life, health, our families, and so much more. Be aware of this, and then take action in your communities. Rest when you can, and help when you are able.


Remember that God is with you. He was with you yesterday, He is with you now, and He will be with you tomorrow. Lean on Him. He told us that we would cross the sea.

And we will. We will do it together.

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