Mark 4:35-41: When Ordinary Life is a Sinking Ship
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
This story from Mark is important to me. It’s probably been the most important in the work of my recovery from OCD.
Mark doesn’t waste time, in his mind, with genealogies. Explanations. Or with a lot of teaching.
His focus is on action. His focus is on moments. His focus is on pictures.
My life in my head felt unmanageable so walking into Christ’s life through simple stories felt manageable. I could find myself in a story where Christ is doing something and be as bewildered or excited as the disciples.
I would say this picture--the one where the boat is sinking, the disciples are frantic, the storm is raging, and where Jesus is silent, and sleeping--has meant the most to me of any since I’ve worked toward an ordinary life of everyday faithfulness with a mental illness and with Christ.
The disciples are doing everything they can get to water out of the boat. But the boat is sinking.
They yell to Jesus, who calms the storm by clearing his throat and saying something, and then turns to the disciples and says, basically,
“What Are You Doing?”
"Don't you trust me?"
The disciples move from grabbing and seizing at the few moments they thought they had left to live to asking a new question: Who is this guy? Who is this guy?
And it says they ask that question with fear, with awe and with wonder.
I’m not sure what life is like to you. What it feels like. But there was hardly ever a time for me when life didn’t feel like a bunch of stuff to figure out.
There are some people for whom the present tense feels like drowning. People for whom ordinary life is a ship full of water. People for whom the regular business of getting by feels like drowning.
Maybe the point is too simple, Life here is not imaged as a bunch of stuff to figure out. Here, Life is Someone we are with. The Word of Life, who called the waters into being can also calm them. And if he is Life, then Life is where he is. And Life is Someone we are with.
With OCD the present tense is like drowning. Even on good days it is always gnawing on me. Even as I live and walk around and eat, OCD is always quietly operating in the background, trying to turn the world into what it is isn’t. Making the world into a haunted house, full of bizarre worries. OCD is always trying to wrestle the world away from me.
OCD makes you feel like your drowning. What it wants you to do is bail water, to worry, to fret. To defend yourself.
But that isn’t Life. It is, in fact, no way to live.
And Christ says, “What are you doing? Do you trust me?”
Trust is hard.
For me trusting does not go hand and hand with feelings and thoughts.
Feelings and thoughts have not been on my side, it seems, for a long time. And my trust, if it is to have any real power in this broken, has to be the overturning of what we think and how we feel by who God Has Revealed Himself to Be. Trusting the Crucified Christ is a Crucifixion. It’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do.
The Scriptures are clear this trust, this faith, is most precious thing we have in this life is Christ. But what do we do with the trust we have in Christ?
It has become come clear to me that there are really only three things you can do with a simple trust in Christ: you can hear, you can pray, you can offer. These are the old, reliable ways to trust Christ. These are the three ways that a simple trust in Christ can be deepened and expressed in a broken, drowning world.
What were the disciples supposed to do? They had already heard Christ’s call to turn and follow. They weren’t supposed to return to Christ through hearing, they had already been called, they were already with them.
They were supposed to feel that peril, that sensation of drowning, and learn to wait. They were supposed to wait on Christ to speak.
Prayer is how we wait on the Lord. Prayer was how I learned I would not drown. Prayer was how I learned I would not die and that an ordinary life was possible. Place where the omens and the prophetic utterances of OCD were revealed moment by moment to be untrue.
This is how I learned to pray, to make my way through the present tense. I did a very, very, old prayer. The Greek Orthodox are big fans of it.
I breathed in, and said “Lord, Jesus Christ.” I breathed out and said, “Have Mercy on Me, a sinner.”
Over the year and with that prayer, I learned every beautiful, dull and horrible moment could be borne patiently and with Christ.
And I have taken that prayer with me into situations that I did not think I could manage because of anxiety.
It didn’t make the things go away, the pull of the OCD. It didn’t stop the storm, stop the undertow, but it gave me a place to stand. But I was given in prayer a place to stand. It didn’t make powerful feelings go away, but it revealed to me a feeling was a feeling. And that was all it was.
I could experience all of it, I could do things, I could live, moment by moment with Christ.