When I was growing up one of the things my family would do most summers was find our way to the beach, and one of my favourite things to do once we were there, especially as a teen, was boogie board. It was never anything fancy: paddle the board out, get on the front of a wave and have it push me back to shore, then paddle out again. I wasn’t doing any tricks or riding massive waves (as much as I told myself differently at the time), but I loved the feeling of the wave underneath me driving me back to the beach. One of the things with boogie boarding though, is that sometimes you ride the waves, and sometimes the waves ride you. More than once during those beach trips I found myself going from feeling on top of the world to being dumped off my board and feeling like a ragdoll in a washing machine. And as much as I would love to tell you that I always just jumped back on my board and went again, I didn’t. There were times when I would make it back to the shore shaken, and fear would stop me going back in.
I remember being told at some point along the way while I was boogie boarding that the best thing to do when you got dumped by a wave was not to fight, but to relax and let the wave wash over you. Then when the wave had passed it would be easy to find your way back to the surface and you would still have the breath and strength to do so. It was counter-intuitive to me, and meant putting my fear aside and trusting that the wave would pass and I would be ok, but it worked. In a lot of ways this is what God says to us about getting through the challenges of life. In Isaiah 43:1b-2 He says: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” God doesn’t promise that we won’t go through challenges in life, in fact He makes it pretty clear that we will, what He promises is that He will be with us no matter what. He also promises that the storms and challenges won’t overwhelm us, but that He will get us through.
Another illustration of this is the story of Peter walking on the water in the book of Matthew (which you can find here). Jesus had just fed 5000+ people and sent his disciples on their way in a boat while he finished dismissing the crowd. While the disciples were on the water a storm came up and was buffeting the boat. In the midst of the wind and waves Jesus walked on the water from the shore out to the boat. When the disciples saw him they, understandably, freaked out and thought it was a ghost. Jesus told them to calm down because it was him, and Peter responded by saying that if it really was Jesus then he should call Peter to walk to him on the water, which Jesus did. Peter steps out of the boat and walks towards Jesus, but is soon distracted by his fear of the winds and waves and starts to sink. In that moment Jesus takes him by the hand and helps him climb back into the boat.
A lot of people are critical of Peter here for starting to sink, but let’s be real for a minute, I’m not sure I would have even stepped out of the boat at that point. Putting that aside, there are a few things we can take from the story. Firstly, again, that storms will come. These guys were literally walking with Jesus, his closest friends on earth, and they still found themselves in a storm that had even the experienced sailors amongst them worried. Secondly, in the midst of the storm there is the opportunity for growth. Peter could easily have stayed in the boat and waited for Jesus to come to him, it’s what everyone else did. But instead he chose to step out, to trust Jesus and do something that went against everything he knew. As a result he had an experience which no-one else did and we see that later in his life in the book of Acts when he was called to step out into things that went against what he knew he was willing to do it and great things happened. Finally, we can see that even when Peter fell short, when he stopped walking in faith and started sinking in fear, Jesus was right there and helped him to safety. There was no drowning and resurrection of Peter, Jesus didn’t leaving him flailing to teach him a lesson, he stepped in and got him through. Even when life seems at its most overwhelming, we can know that God won’t let us drown.
I’m not going to sit here and say that I’ve got this down pat, that every time I’m in a storm I just keep my eyes on Jesus and everything is ok, because that’s just not true. I still have times when I’m facing the storms (and sometimes the showers) of life that all I can see is the torrent of water about to crush me. I still have days where I think “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore”, where no matter how much I try to relax and let the wave wash over me it just seems pointless because there’ll just be another one to knock me down. But despite those days, and despite the storms that have battered me, one things stands true. By the grace of God, and through His love, I’m still here. No matter what I’ve faced, no matter how long or intense the battle, He carries me through. I don’t have all the answers, I can’t tell you how to navigate every storm that comes, but I can tell you this: If you let God into your life, He will get you through. As it says in Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”