Susan Sparks: Lord, I’ll bail the boat. You calm the storm
At one time or another, we’ve all found ourselves staring down a storm. It’s a scary thing and can often leave us feeling like we can’t carry on. For all those who have faced a hurricane (literal or otherwise), I offer this Gospel story.
After a long day of teaching, Jesus and his disciples are in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee. A furious storm blows in, and as the boat begins to swamp, the disciples begin to panic. (Please keep in mind that at least four of them were professional fishermen, so this must have been one massive storm.)
The scripture doesn’t tell us this specifically, but I imagine that when the boat begins to fill with water, the disciples do the one thing they can do — bail out the boat. They bail and bail, yet the water keeps coming and the wind keeps howling. Finally, when the boat is about to sink, they called for Jesus, who is asleep in the stern (quite a feat in such a tumult). “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus stands up, rebukes the wind, then says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceases, and there is a dead calm on the waters. Then Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40).
While this story contains a clear lesson on faith, something else has always struck me: the distinct nature of the roles of the disciples and Jesus. The disciples are in charge of sailing the boat and bailing it out when it starts to sink. That’s what they can do. That is in their control. On the other hand, Jesus is in charge of calming the storm. That is within his control.
And it’s the same for us. We, as human beings, are best suited for sailing and bailing the boat — for showing up, putting in the time, and doing the work. That is in our control. Jesus, on the other hand, is best for calming the storms — for easing our fears, doubts, anger and resentment. That is within his control.
The problem is that we usually try to do Jesus’ job as well as our own, which just doesn’t work. The great jazz singer Lena Horne explained it like this: “It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s how you carry it.”
That’s why I’ve now started keeping two to-do lists: Mine and Jesus’.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a medical issue. Your to-do list should be about sailing and bailing the boat — which means doing things within your control, such as going to the doctor, taking your meds and undergoing the necessary tests or treatments. Jesus’ to-do list should contain things that you don’t do so well or that aren’t in your control. Things like worrying about what tomorrow will bring.
Are you anxious about money? Your to-do list is to sail and bail the boat: make a budget, cut down on costs, and pay down or renegotiate your debt. Things to put on Jesus’ list: calm the storm of apprehension and ease the stigma of shame.
Or maybe you are digging out from a literal storm. Your list: clean up and rebuild. Jesus’ list: rebuke the anger, still the fear and strengthen your will to go forward.
We all face storms in this life. Many of them are literal, like Florence and Mangkhut. And while these storms may rage on for some time, the storms in our hearts can be calmed at any time. It’s all comes down to splitting your to-do list into the two categories reflected in this simple prayer:
Lord, I’ll bail the boat. You calm the storm.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com