Calming the waves of fear

During a frightening, turbulent English Channel crossing, inspiration from a Bible story helped a woman tangibly feel God’s care – bringing poise and peace to her and her family.

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The waves on the English Channel were buffeting the ferryboat that my family was in to cross over to France. As the boat plunged up and down violently, nearly everyone on board seemed afraid. Even the staff looked worried, explaining to us that they had never seen such tumultuous water during a channel crossing. Soon the fear was heightened by an acute feeling of seasickness.

Normally I am a praying person, but as the panic heightened I was having trouble just keeping calm. Initially, I was simply focusing on myself and willing myself not to be ill. Then I lifted my head and glanced around at my family. While most of us were hunched over and looking a little green, my sister-in-law had the most peaceful look on her face, as if she were just enjoying the ride. I marveled at her calm, but it also made me aware that this ride could definitely go a different way.

I thought of a Bible story related in the Gospel of Mark (see 4:36-41). As the story goes, Jesus and his disciples were in a ship when a great wind began whipping up the waves, filling their boat with water. His disciples were afraid. There seemed to be no other possibility than that the boat would sink. However, when they turned to Jesus, they found him sleeping peacefully, apparently unconcerned.

Without a word to them, Jesus stood up and commanded the sea, “Peace, be still.” Instantly the situation shifted; the waves and wind ceased. He asked his disciples, “Why are ye so fearful?”

To me, “peace, be still” seems a command to the disciples as much as to the storm, an encouragement to be calm and at peace. One of the many lessons Jesus had taught the disciples during his ministry was that God’s love for everyone was so great that God would never leave, would always care for them. The love of our heavenly Father is all-powerful and ever present. “Nothing shall by any means hurt you,” Jesus explained at one point (Luke 10:19).

Even when a situation seems hopeless, God – the only legitimate power – is at the helm, guiding us and holding all of us, His spiritual sons and daughters, safe at every moment.

Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian theologian and founder of The Christian Science Monitor, wrote in her collection “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” what it is to be sure of God’s care. In a comforting article called “Angels,” she describes how angels aren’t beings with fluttering wings, but spiritual ideas sent from God that inspire and lift our thinking (see pp. 306-307).

These divine ideas reassure us of God’s care and inspire healing and solutions. As Mrs. Eddy notes, “... divine Love is an ever-present help; and if you wait, never doubting, you will have all you need every moment.” The article closes by explaining what an understanding of the ever-presence of God, infinite Love itself, offers us: “This sweet assurance is the ‘Peace, be still’ to all human fears, to suffering of every sort.”

Seeing how calm my sister-in-law was, coupled with the inspiration that was coming to me, made me realize that the way I was thinking about the situation – feeling helpless and vulnerable – was at the root of my great distress. But I’d experienced before how that idea of God, divine Love, as an “ever-present help” in any storm or trial can remove fear and bring calm and poise to our response to a situation.

While the waves did not subside, I gradually began to feel a sense of peace. It wasn’t a willful thing, but stemmed from a growing sense of God’s presence, a conviction of God’s care that lifted my spirits. I even started humming some favorite hymns from the “Christian Science Hymnal.”

The boat ride ended safely and uneventfully, with no one in our family getting sick. Later my brother told me that he was sure it was listening to the hymns I was humming that kept him from getting sick.

We can be confident, even when we feel overwhelmed by waves of fear, that we are safe in God’s powerful care. Willingness to let God’s spiritual ideas into our thought, assuring us of His protection, brings more peace and evidence of that protection. We may even find that our peaceful poise in the midst of the storm helps calm someone else’s fear, too.

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