Safety in the Storm

Recently I was reading the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark chapter 4. I have read this story countless times, and can rattle it off in a flannel graph like stills across the fingers of one hand: Scene 1 – Jesus and His disciples get in the boat. Scene 2 – The storm comes up and Jesus sleeps, peacefully unaffected. Scene 3 – The disciples begin to panic and wake up Jesus. Scene 4 – He questions their fear and takes command of the situation. Scene 5 – Suddenly, all is calm. Order is restored, Jesus and the disciples float across the lake and into a rose-coloured sunset. End Scene. 

The text flies through the arc of the narrative in the space of only four verses. When I race through this reading at such a pace and rush ahead to the sunset, I fail to notice what is happening between the disciples and Jesus at the peak of this story during the height of the disciples’ panic.

Recently, I have spent some self-directed learning time in the world of attachment science – discovering what creates safe or secure bonds with the important people in our lives. As I applied this lens to this story, it made me ask questions I had not thought of before, and I found myself in the boat with the disciples in ways I hadn’t experienced before. 

Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, states that in order for us to feel safe in a secure attachment relationship, we need to know “ARE you there for me?” She uses the acronym A.R.E. to parse what constitutes the qualities of a secure relationship; in short, are you Accessible, Responsive, and Emotionally Engaged?

In my recent reflections on these verses, I was fascinated to see how the disciples, when in the midst of life-threatening panic, actually name two separate fears in the midst of that storm. Their first panic is not the storm raging around them and sloshing over the sides of their boat, rather it is their terror that Jesus does not care. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mk 4:38). The second fear of perishing in the midst of the storm comes so quickly on the heels of the first, that I think I have often failed to notice the fear preceding it. 

This is the cry of their primal panic: Jesus, don’t you see? Don’t you care? Will you fail to respond? Do you see that we are drowning? That death is only a moment away? Are we safe? Am I safe with you

Sue Johnson writes: “From the cradle to the grave, human beings are hardwired to seek not just social contact, but also physical, and emotional proximity to special others who are deemed irreplaceable. The longing for a “felt sense” of connection to key others is primary in terms of the hierarchy of human goals and needs. Humans are most acutely aware of this innate need for connection at times of threat, risk, pain, or uncertainty” (Attachment Theory in Practice, 2018).

When I think of my own responses in times of stress, uncertainty and panic – I think the deepest fear of my heart is not only that Jesus may not take away the storm, but even more so, that He would fail to see me in it. Like the disciples, I cry out to be seen in the midst of the storm and I reach for some assurance that in the midst of turmoil, He still cares and His bond with me stands strong.

In this narrative Jesus does calm the storm and everything becomes still with a few words of command. Jesus then turns to his disciples and asks them: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mk 4:40). 

As I sit with the passage, I wonder if His question has less to do with the fact that they were afraid of the storm, but perhaps that they were afraid for the security of their relationship with Jesus. That Jesus would suddenly prove unreachable, unresponsive, and emotionally dismissive. That maybe, their deepest fears would be realized, and Jesus wouldn’t care. As I reflect on the storms I have weathered myself, and the storms I accompany clients through in counselling, this cry rings true for me. I wonder if Jesus was able to see to the heart of their attachment cry in the midst of the storm. That in calming the physical threat, He also quieted their fear of relational threat. 

Sometimes it is those places of storm, of impending crisis, that make us question the security of our relationship with God. To cry out wondering if He does still care. Like Hagar in the desert, my hope is that when we find ourselves in the wilderness, or in the storm, we can say with confidence: “You are the God who sees me… I have now seen the One who sees me” (Gen 16:13). Where do you need Jesus to reassure you that He sees you in the storm and that He does care? 

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