Sudden storms and broken branches: Why discipleship is about peace, not safety

I always had a childhood dream of swimming with dolphins. In 1996 I spent nine months teaching in a Ugandan school. In our month off I was super excited when the chance arose to actually swim with dolphins off the Zanzibar coast. The day came, the boatman arrived and we set sail with bright sun overhead, a calm glasslike sea, the dolphin pod in sight and uncontainable excitement in our bellies.

Everything was just as I'd imagined it. And then it wasn't.

Storms can come out of the blue.Pixabay

The sun disappeared behind dark clouds. The cool breeze became a howling wind, the calm waves whipped up into angry white horses crashing against our boat. Torrential rain pelted us, and booming thunder and lightning turned our dream into a nightmare. The boatman (who couldn't swim) looked terrified and started handed out leaky buckets as his boat began to take on water.

Incredibly, two of my much braver friends were not deterred by the changed circumstances. While the rest of us clung to the side of the boat trying to stop ourselves from throwing up, crying or both, they dived into the wild waves, found the dolphins in the murky choppy water, and fulfilled their dream.

Just two days ago, I had a special reunion with these two brave dolphin divers. Our children all played merrily together climbing a sturdy looking tree. It was all very lovely until the sound of a branch snapping made us all gasp as we watched our children suddenly crash to the ground and land on top of each other in a heap.

Three hours in A and E later we were happily given a no-broken-bones verdict. Phew.

Life is full of curve balls. How do we react when boat men can't handle storms and hand us leaky buckets? When sturdy looking tree branches snap in two? When the very thing we rely on is unreliable? That job? That church? That relationship? That role? That friend? That life script?

We don't know what sudden changes in economic, political, medical or familial climate will bring. Like a sudden storm brewing up, rapid, unwelcome change leaves us disorientated, anxious and unsure. Catapulted from a place of feeling secure, settled and supported to a disorientating state of uncertainty and chaos.

What a relief that we don't have to be able to predict what's coming up in order to futureproof ourselves against potential disappointment. We are simply called to 'Follow' the one who knows how to still the storms, and the one who can give us complete peace – a peace that passes all understanding – in the midst of them.

We need to get better as the church at naming life's storms and helping each other to look beyond them, to the one who promises to be our rock, our refuge, our shelter, through all that life throws at us. We can choose to see life's curveballs as opportunities for growth, for intimacy with Jesus and to plunge new depths of trust in our one and only Rock.

We need to learn not to wait for the perfect day. Not to wait for the clouds to pass and the waters to calm, but to grab each other by the hands, and ask our Rock for the courage to jump anyway.

As we head into the summer, and then into the 'new term' feel of September – what are our expectations? As the church family how can we help each other not to be deterred from pursuing the passions and purpose which we've been created to pursue?

As parents or godparents, aunties and uncles, friends, community members and global neighbours, how can we help our children, or those we influence, to navigate the storms and broken tree branches of life?

What could it mean to help each other stay focused on our goals, and live from our values?

To help each other to be undeterred by life's challenges and able to sustain turbulence, sudden storms and unmet expectations?

Which waves might we have to plunge into together to fulfil the God given dreams God has given us?

My prayer for this summer is that despite the changing weather, the curveballs or disappointments which will inevitably come our way, we will experience God's 'immeasurably more than all we ask for or even imagine' (Ephesians 3:20).

He is the one who calms our souls despite the storms of life, and says 'Peace, be still' as we step out with him to face whatever adventure lies ahead.

Esther Stansfield is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked for Tearfund and Scripture Union.