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.”