I recently heard a fascinating story, told by my preacher-brother in a sermon. (I love listening to my younger brother preach, except when he uses embarrassing stories from our childhood as illustrations. Thankfully, this story was NOT about us!)
In his book, The Good War, author and historian Studs Terkel tells the story of a convoy of ships transporting Sherman tanks across the Atlantic Ocean in WWII. In the middle of the Atlantic, the ships were hit by a terrible storm. On one of these ships, the tanks broke loose.
Imagine Sherman tanks (weighing 20-30 tons) sliding around in the hold of a ship, smashing into each other and the bulkhead! Each time the ship would roll in the waves, the tanks threatened to shake the ship apart. The ship’s crew was forced to pull out of the convoy and head out into open sea, while the deck seamen went below to secure the tanks.
After a struggle, the men managed to lash the tanks down, ensuring the ship’s safety in the storm. The great danger to the ship was not the storm beating the outside of the ship, but the disturbance on the inside.
What a vivid picture of what can happen to us when the storms of life hit! It’s not the actual storm that will drown us, but our response to the storm. Not the driving winds and slashing rain on the outside, but the storm swirling within—the storm of the heart—that will drive us to our knees in defeat.
Life is full of storms—some big, some small. None of us would argue that point. We see families torn apart by divorce, loved ones ravaged by disease, and lives devastated by pain and loss.
And then there are the smaller, not-so-destructive-but-still-annoying storms that can hit our lives nearly every day. The car keys disappear right before you need to leave for work. The kids knock over your favorite lamp. The dishwasher quits working and leaks water all over the kitchen floor. The dog throws up on the carpet. AGAIN.
If we’re not careful, the little storms can throw us into a swirling tornado of worry and anxiety. What was once a pleasant day can turn into a day of frustration, a day that we are only too happy to put behind us as we fall into bed at night. At times, we handle the big storms better than we cope in the small storms. (Why is it that I can trust God with the big stuff but not the small stuff? It’s like I’m saying, “God, you concentrate on keeping the planets aligned and I’ll find the car keys.”)
One of those small-but-annoying storms hit my life this week. It was a storm in the shape of a mailbox, and it threatened to unleash my anger and steal my peace. After two years of delivering mail to my mailbox, the postal service decided it was not regulation height and stopped delivering.
Ok, not a problem. I was planning to open a post office box anyway. But in the process of transferring from delivery service to a box at the post office, my mail disappeared SOMEWHERE.
The clerks at the post office said the mail had been delivered to my house. The delivery person said it hadn’t been delivered. And then I was told that I had picked up the mail myself. (What? I was out of town that day!) The mail fiasco lasted about a week and a half, and during that time, four bills, paperwork I needed for my daycare, and a package for my sons went missing.
I’ll have to admit that my initial response during the “Storm of the Missing Mail” was not a peaceful, happy, God-is-in-control response. I worried about paying late fees on my bills, worried that I’d never find the documents for my daycare, worried that I’d have to re-order the things my sons needed and spend even more money.
I finally realized one evening what I was doing to myself. I was letting a small storm of inconvenience grow into a typhoon of worry, anxiety, and even anger. Why was I doing this? I’ve been through heart-wrenching, life-altering storms! Why was I letting missing mail get me down so much?
The answer is simple. Because I’m human, and humans tend to forget things. Humans get caught up in the stress of this life instead of looking up to the God who controls all life. Humans need reminding that everything really IS going to be ok.
So how can we weather the storms well? How can we experience peace even though the winds are whipping and the waves are crashing? How can we keep our ship from capsizing?
- Keep God’s Word close. The Bible is full of the promises of God—promises of protection, guidance, comfort, provision, and hope. Write these promises down and carry them with you. Just taking a moment to meditate on Scripture will calm you and bring peace. The verse that spoke to me during my mail “crisis” (when I finally came to my senses!) was Isaiah 26:3—“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
- Take a step back and look at the big picture. A good way to do this is to ask the question, “Is this going to matter in a year? In 5 years? In 10?” I nearly laughed to myself when I took a moment to ponder the long-term effects of my missing mail. Yes, it would have been inconvenient to call four companies and get them to resend my bills, and I may have lost some money, but was it worth losing sleep over? Nope!
- Remember that God is in control and He is bigger than any problem that you face. While I was fussing about my missing mail, God was balancing our galaxy. He was maintaining delicate ecosystems and painting sunsets. He was feeding and caring for millions of animal species on Earth. Not to mention keeping the hearts of 7.5 billion people beating. Missing mail? I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a stretch for Him!
Life is crazy, especially for women who are juggling family, work, home, and countless other responsibilities. When the trials come, that can be the last straw that sends us over the edge and into a panic. We feel out-of-control and helpless to change the situation.
The next time the wind picks up, the rain starts beating down on you, and you are tempted to panic in the storm, remember those tanks threatening to sink the ship. It’s not the outside storm, but your inner turmoil, that is going to bring you down.
So chain up those tanks! Grab your Bible and find some verses that will calm and strengthen you, take a step back and look at the big picture, and remember that your God is in control. He’s much, much bigger than your storm, and He has promised to bring you through those waves if you will trust in Him.