Snow storm in the East Village, New York City.

Photo by Jeffrey Blum on Unsplash

Dealing with storms during Lent 

March 22, 2023
In this season of Lent, we endeavor to draw closer to the Divine. However, we may struggle with various vicissitudes that distract us from that connection. These vicissitudes may manifest in our lives as storms.

Storms are frightening to hear about, terrifying to experience, and many times difficult to recover from. One year my wife and I were traveling back to Upstate New York in the winter. We had not been in the state long and had no concept of the fury of Mother Nature. Anyone who has ever driven through a whiteout, a snowstorm where there is zero visibility, knows that it is an unnerving experience. Talk about white knuckling. Not being able to see where you are driving or the road you are driving on is beyond terrifying. Then it gets more frightening because you dare not stop, fearing being rear-ended because other drivers are not able to see you.

There are storms that blow into our lives that cause chaos and even destruction. Like winter snowstorms that cause whiteout conditions, these storms can be terrifying. Any life-changing situation that was not expected is a storm. A family member diagnosed with a terminal illness, death of a loved one, the loss of a job that provided major income for the family or living in a country besieged by war—these are all storms. They happen unexpectedly. When storms occur, peace seems impossible—at least if peace is understood as the absence of conflict or chaos, when things appear to be calm. However, being calm and at peace are distinctively different when dealing with the human spirit and the emotional self.

Recently, I made a life-changing decision that resulted in some unsettling experiences. Prior to this year, I pastored in Upstate New York. Pastoring has its challenges, however, after some time, one gets into a groove and the rhythm becomes a little more predictable. If there are no major fires in the life of the church or community, a pastor can experience relative peace. Now, do not misunderstand this relative peace. A pastor’s life is riddled with challenges, however, after having pastored for more than a few decades, one learns how not to sweat the small stuff. Even this is not peace. It may be calm, it may be quiet, there may not be chaos or blatant conflict, however, this does not mean there is peace. I learned this in my transition from being a pastor to joining the Navy Chaplain Corps. The Officers Development School was an unsettling experience to say the least. It was beyond my comfort zone. I was challenged in ways that I had not imagined, and peace? I had to reexamine what that looked like.

Peace starts from within. To maintain peace involves nurturing peace persistently. This is not a casual practice; it must be a lifestyle. 

It appears that we live our lives from the perspective of a deficiency of peace. Dare I suggest a misunderstanding of peace? This is evident when we think that the lack of chaos and conflict represents peace. Some may only equate peace with serenity, tranquility, or even calmness. In his book “The Abundance Project” Derek Rydall reintroduces a familiar concept.[i] He suggests that we have everything we need in this world to be successful. There is no lack. If this is the case, then peace, based on Rydall’s premise, is not in short supply. If this is true, then why is peace so elusive? Perhaps, revisiting that perspective of tranquility that distorts an outlook of peace can be helpful.

In reexamining our viewpoint of peace during this season of reflection, repentance and restoration, a look at the Master’s words may be helpful. I found them very helpful in readjusting my perspective on peace. In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus leaves the disciples with comforting words. The Master opens the discourse with, “Do not let your heart be troubled…” (John 14:1 NASB). These are words of consolation concerning Jesus’ departure. He goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27 NASB). Jesus makes a distinction concerning peace. There is peace that the world gives and then there is peace that Jesus gives. Peace is not always the absence of turmoil, peace is also the ability to remain cool, calm, and collected in the turbulent times of life. Jesus models this very attribute with the disciples on the sea of Galilee (Mark 4:39). In Mark 4:39, Jesus “hushed” the storm. I believe in order to speak peace, one must possess peace. To possess peace, one needs to be connected to the Source of peace. Here is where Jesus makes the distinction between the world’s peace and the peace that he provides. When we diligently and consecutively connect to the Source, then peace is possible in life’s storms. This means there is confidence in not being overwhelmed by the storm because of that connection to the Source.

Finally, in reexamining our perspective on peace, taking another look at the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel is critical and helpful. In verses 1 and 27 Jesus instructs the disciples to “not let” their “hearts be troubled.” This suggests that one gives trouble permission to enter the heart. We allow our hearts to be troubled by not fortifying the heart against trouble. Howard Thurman, in the opening of his book “Meditations of the Heart” states, “There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea, there is an island and on that island, there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the ‘angel with the flaming sword.’ Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority.”[ii] The altar is the heart or soul and standing guard is the “angel with the flaming sword.” The more vigilant one is with what enters the spirit the more peace there is in one’s life.

Peace starts from within. To maintain peace involves nurturing peace persistently. This is not a casual practice; it must be a lifestyle. To live a healthy life, one needs to make it a lifestyle. Unfortunately, we are driven to react to outside stimuli. When this happens, we have already given that turbulent stimuli authority to disrupt and disconnect our connection to the Source of peace. To persistently possess peace, nurturing is a necessity. The garden of our mind needs tending to every day. Weeds grow just as fast as fruits and vegetables in a garden. If the garden is left unattended, weeds will grow also. To prevent this overgrowth of unwanted weeds involves being attentive to the garden of one’s soul. A spiritual practice that grounds one to the Source consistently is a great place to start. During this season of Lent, may you find a spiritual practice that nurtures and guards peace in your life.

Lt. Gregory Johnson serves in the US Navy Chaplain’s Corps. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views the US Navy or the Department of Defense.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Rydall, Derek. The Abundance Project: 40 Days to More Wealth, Health, Love, and Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022.

[ii] Thurman, Howard. Meditations of the Heart. New York: Harper and Row, 1953, p. 15.

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