“. . . the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves; for they understood not concerning the loaves . . .” (Mark 6: 51)
Imagine it’s late at night and you are on a small boat in the midst of a storm-tossed sea. The boat has sprung a leak, the bilge pump can’t keep up, and each new wave threatens to send you to the bottom of the sea. You start jettisoning every thing that’s weighing you down but the boat keeps sinking lower and lower. How can you survive?
The answer: stop imagining.
Most of our worries have to do with events that have already happened or future events that will never occur (at least, not as badly as we fear). Some even have to do with things we can do nothing about (like the nation’s fiscal crisis). They are figments of our imaginations, clouding our thoughts, inflaming our emotions and and leaving us with a sinking feeling. All to no avail.
As Leo Buscaglia said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
Of course, there is no denying that some problems are very real and cannot be changed by simply changing our attitude. For example, in Mark 6: 45-52, the apostles were in real danger. They had every reason to fear that they might drown. But by focusing on the waves below, instead of on what was above, they failed to see another way out of the danger that threatened to engulf them. Remember, just prior to the storm, they had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Yet, Mark tells us they “understood not concerning the loaves;” instead of being joyful, their hearts heart were “hardened.” So when the storm arose and threatened to capsize their boat, their fears got the best of them. They thought they would drown. They thought they’d seen a ghost. It was only after Jesus called out to them that they realized they were saved.
Like the apostles, we, too, go through tempestuous passages that can take us by surprise and change the course of our lives. But it is still up to us to determine how we will respond.
There are five things you can learn from every stormy passage:
1. Pray like it’s up to God; haul on the oars like it’s up to you. With Jesus on board and the sea once again calm, the apostles still had to pull for shore. God helps those who help themselves.
2. Steer into the waves. Focus on things that are under your control – the ones you can do something about and, like a good helmsman, take your troubles head on. Make a list of your problems and admit to yourself where you went wrong. If you don’t take ownership of the problem and, instead, persist in blaming bad luck, poor timing or other people, you lose control and begin to see yourself as a victim. And, as a victim, you are powerless to solve the problem.
3. Chart a course to safer waters. Just as a ship at sea follows a carefully charted course, you have to prioritize your problems and take steps to solve them one day at a time. Keep a daily journal of your progress and, if you encounter a setback, correct your course immediately.
4. Jettison any excess baggage that’s weighing you down. For example, if money is tight and you’re drowning in debt, don’t ignore your bills; pay what you can and resolve to pay more next time. An old proverb says, “Loans and debts make worries and frets.” Cut you debt load. Control your expenses. Eliminate any discretionary expenses until you reach calmer waters.
5. Maintain a buoyant attitude. Difficult times can trigger negative thoughts and challenge our self-esteem. They can foster self-defeating habits such as overeating, smoking, drinking and gambling. The key is to avoid those occasions that trigger poor behavior. Surround yourself with positive, supportive friends and be open to any advice you might receive from them. Don’t let anger, resentment or self-pity pull you down. Don’t play the blame game. Practice self-affirmations every day.
Finally, share what you learn with others who might benefit from your life experience.