Psalm 107:23-27 is how I felt this morning:
Some went off to sea in ships, plied their trade on the deep waters. They saw the works of the Lord, the wonders of God in the deep. He commanded and roused a storm wind; it tossed the waves on high. They rose up to the heavens, sank to the depths; their hearts trembled at the danger. They reeled, staggered like drunkards; their skill was of no avail.
I was having a major attack of what I call “the dreads” that come before a hot flash. Here I am, praying the Rosary in the woods on a beautiful summer day, and a wave of self-doubt and hopelessness looms up from nowhere, arching its weight over me, threatening to capsize my life. Like sailors in the psalm, I stagger to stay upright on the emotional see-saw, grasping for the confidence I felt just a moment ago, straining for God, but it all seems gone – lost forever. I try to thank and praise God, but no one seems to be listening.
And when that wave passed, another took its place, and another, and another, my shirt getting more and more damp. My heart indeed “trembled at the danger” – a vague, horrible feeling that it seemed would never end.
Feelings like this can come from lots of things: physical pain, being yelled at or rejected by someone we love, a public failure, or sometimes just a string of cloudy days will send us into “this is horrible and it will never end” mode.
God calms the waters
We know how all calamitous and despairing psalms end – God takes us by the hand and leads us from despair to mercy, from the “trackless wastes” of self-reliance to the “abundant harvest” of his grace. Psalm 107 is no exception. When my storms calmed down, I felt more like verses 29 and 30:
He hushed the storm to silence; the waves of the sea were stilled. They rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.
Safe at last
I write this from a safe harbor – for the moment – which allows me breathing room to look for the gifts God offers me, even during a “storm at sea.” For starters, this is really a little taste of hell, and reminds me how much I want to avoid going there! It reminds me that whatever it takes, by God’s grace, to get closer to him in this world and live with him forever in the next is worth it.
The second gift is a reminder of how dependent I am on God for every good thing. And that he is all good, all the time. Emotional storms and bouts of self-doubt are golden times to see clearly that “our skill is to no avail” without God’s grace and that his grace is infinitely more fruitful than any skill we may have. Remember what God said when Paul complained of his weakness and pain? “My grace is sufficient for you.”
A third gift is being more understanding with people whose fears and weaknesses are on display. Who am I to say who should be strong, when God showed me so vividly my powerlessness over my own storm? As his amazed disciples learned one night, it is Jesus alone who calms storms. “Who then is this whom even the wind and sea obey?” (Mark 4:41). Jesus asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
A question of faith
It’s a good question. If faith is, as Paul tells us, “the substance of things unseen,” then, yes, it takes a lot of faith to hang in there when we can’t know when the storm will end or see any evidence that the one who will calm it is even there.
Psalm 107 ends with a gift to draw us to greater humility and trust that he’s got our back:
Whoever is wise will take note of these things,
and ponder the merciful deeds of the Lord.
There’s our answer, then. When a storm rages, and we can’t see help in sight, we can remember how many times God has rescued us before — that he is the God who is love, and there is no other — and that “his mercy endures forever.”
Beautiful, Rose…just Beautiful!!
Forgiveness is a very difficult journey. After many years of harshness how can you give what has never been given to you.
I’m sorry for your experience of harshness. I have been there, too. You are right that it is a sometimes life-long journey. I think the short answer to your question is Jesus on the Cross — he is the forgiver and the one whom we imitate to become more forgiving. The best book on forgiveness I know is “Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach” by R. Scott Hurd. You’re in my prayers.
How you explained it was “a little taste of hell, and reminds me how much I want to avoid going there!”, stuck my heart….it’s what I needed to hear. Thank you, for putting it that way. Those storms will end in His time and we need to be patient and trust in Him.
It helps, doesn’t it, to try to see things from God’s point of view!
Patricia Spinoso Brophy
Rose I love this . I’ve lived through a mentally abusive marriage & many years of what you’ve described. It wasn’t easy but when I started to draw closer to Our Lord it became manageable. And the Good Lord began to show me his love for me. He was always there & brought me many graces. I prayed for my husband for years & still do. But when the children grew up & moved on , I too , felt as I needed too. My life is more peace filled today as I live with my mom & help mom in her elderly years . I also have a job with good people who are caring & kind . I see the Lords hand on my life & am grateful to him & a more caring person. It’s because of His Grace & love for me . Thank you Rose
That is all so true. Thank you for sharing. 💕💕😢
Your second gift “reminder of our dependence on God for eveything” was a good one for me this week. Thank you!
The dreads: Bingo! My number one challenge. I’m the cowardly lion shrinking before the Wizard of Oz who looms large to expose my weaknesses. In the face of that I run to despair, the place where I can pull the covers over my head and assume the identity of victim of circumstances.
From time to time I troll the Catechism of the Catholic Church, originally to dig up inconsistencies which over time have evaporated. But CCC 2091 says despair is a sin. C’mon you guys, how could despair be a sin; despair HAPPENS to me! But what if they’re right and despair is something I do? That means there is the possibility of NOT doing despair.
I don’t have any magic wisdom for shedding dread and despair except to hang out with the likes of Teresa of Avila who saw God as a friend she could call on at any time, John XXIII who’s Only for Today shows how to do what is in front of us in manageable constructive steps, and other characters who had a sense of mission and, like d’Artagnon, declared to their followers “All for one, one for all!”
So I just run down to church and patch the despair bugs in my “software” with new code. The patch takes about 30 minutes each day so I arrive 30 minutes early. A one time patch doesn’t seem to work. Apparently I have only “volatile memory” which fades overnight.
Thank you for reminding me of God’s response to Paul. I must need a reminder of that because in another reading this week, I was studying St. Ignatius’ Suscipe which ends, “Give me you love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me.” Thank you Rose for the insight you provide for God.
Oh my, how I needed this message today. I have been struggling with family issues that are causing such sorrow . These words have encouraged me to be more prayerful. Thank you.
So glad it resonated with you, JoAnn! In case you could use some friendly help to be more prayerful, I have a new video series called Revive Your Catholic Prayer Life. Here’s page where you can learn more: https://virtue.thrivecart.com/revive-your-prayer-life-course/
You’re in my prayers.
Anna Marie Montanaro
Thank you Rose for this wonderful reminder! Praying for “cooler days” for you as well!
Love, Anna Marie
Thank you so much for your inspiring words.Blessings! 🙏
It took so long for me to recognize those terrible feelings as feelings of fear and despair rather than total reality. A taste of hell indeed. The Psalms with their pedigree of innumerable people guided by them to God for thousands of years have been a rock to cling to in turbulent, confusing times. To “hear” other people cry out with the same anguish I feel provides hope for survival and taught me at least sometimes to wait in patience for God’s peace and for the storm to pass.
Thank you Rose
Thanks, Rose, for this powerful reminder of how Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Thank you for sharing these storms.
Thank you Rose
Had bad day.. have a son with mental stuff doesn’t want to even try lose weight.. is disrespectful..
Sorry to hear about the rough time you’re having. You’re in my prayers!
Thanks fir your blogs