As Hurricane Laura pounded the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, I thought about the gale-force winds that have blown through my life. I have lived through several hurricanes, even though I am a resident of New Jersey. One was so devastating that my young family was without power for 11 days and had to be taken in by someone else. The whooshing of the hurricane’s wind was terrifying as it downed so many trees that roads were impassable for days, then weeks.
But storms in life don’t have to be literal to be devastating. For instance, as a hospital chaplain, I’ve met many life-threatening situations head-on, and sadly not all have ended with healing. The rollercoaster of loss has affected my own family on more than one occasion too. I’ve witnessed the devastation of mental illness and addiction. I’ve walked with others through countless hardships as a pastor as well.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once testified, “Into each life some rain must fall.” While this is true—every life encounters difficulty—sometimes that rain can feel more like a deluge. The fact that bad breaks often aggregate at the same time is an inexplicable reality, much like how our good God created a beautiful world that knows such brokenness.
As the country braced for Hurricane Laura’s ensuing destruction, I followed the storm’s formation. I saw white, mammoth clouds spinning and churning through satellite images. There were purple flashes of lightning within the cyclone. Yet the center, the eye of the hurricane was different. It was a place of peace, a dark hole of rest visible all the way out in space as well.
Peace in the Eye of the Storm
It made me wonder: How can we as Christians live in the eye of the storm, in a place of peace regardless of what is swirling around us? I thought of when I served as a hospital chaplain as a part of my ministry training in my 20s. I often heard, “You’re so young! I can’t believe you are a chaplain.” People didn’t know the years God had spent training me for that moment.
While the happenings of my day were heavy and beyond the usual repertoire of someone my age, I found peace. It was an honor to witness to God and be a part of faith openings in those liminal moments. Death and sickness can serve as powerful reminders to number our days. I began to see each day as a gift and realized that none of us know how many we have, so it’s up to us to live each day fully and wisely. It’s a healing reminder in a culture that often avoids meaningful conversation about death.
That kind of peace in the eye of the storm reminds me of an illustration that I heard in a Joel Osteen sermon. A painter was asked to participate in a contest and portray a picture of peace. The contest’s winning picture was of a mother bird with her young. She hovered over her babies beside a waterfall whose power was enough to topple the nest, yet she remained at peace in the watery mist. I can imagine God wants the same for us.
Leaning into Faith Is a Choice
I love how Scripture describes God as a God of strength who enables us to “tread upon the heights” like the “feet of a deer” (Hab. 3:19). It’s not our circumstances so much as our faith that’s important, yet leaning into faith is a choice. I remember a quote by Charles Swindol that my father used to have taped by his computer:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do…The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
Being proactive on our part impacts the kind of life we lead. When I consider what living fully means to me, I think about a life that’s characterized by more peace, gratitude, joy, and fulfillment. Living fully means drinking in life’s goodness—being present for it and fostering more of those fulfilling moments. Living fully also means showing resolve and fortitude in life’s storms, so that I can rebound quickly or walk with peace through them. Interestingly, in both good and bad times, living fully involves choice.
As a pastor, I have been asked by many people how I reconcile God’s goodness with tragedy. We have the comfort of faith, but why do storms occur to begin with? In seminary, I heard one professor testify that God is the first to cry with us in pain. The fact that Jesus was Lord did not spare him from suffering. Scripture attests to the fact that creation is groaning; we experience its brokenness through sin, sickness, natural disaster, and loss.
As Christians, we are promised that God will dry every eye in heaven, but we also have more. We have hope that can sustain us in the storm and make us thrive in the eye. We worship a God who can gift us with supernatural peace. God’s specialty is also beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). He brought light out of Jesus’ darkest night and attests that no situation we experience ever is beyond the promise of this transformation. We can remain in the eye because we are expectant to discover God’s reversal. God will use all things for our good and his glory. By standing in faith, we’ll see his power, a power stronger than any devastation.
How to Live Your Life Purpose
When we live in the eye of the storm, we cling to that hope, and we also strive to live each day to the fullest in God. The psalmist petitions, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (90:12). It’s a lesson that I learned as a chaplain, and one I heed today by seeking to live my life purpose, or the life I believe God intended for me. I empower others to find and live their purpose in my new book, How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best.
I divide life purpose into six steps. Those steps include tuning into longing, being willing to risk, and persisting in that risk (which feels even harder). Each chapter ends with a study that’s intended for an individual or group. Some study questions are Scripture-related, and some are media-related. The latter entails watching cultivated clips of my TV show, Chaos to Calm, which enables viewers to benefit from my guests’ wisdom—guests that include New York Times bestselling Christian author Sally Lloyd-Jones and an Emmy Award-winning journalist. The interesting thing is that the book itself would likely have never happened if it hadn’t been for a tragedy, a storm, in my life. Living through 9/11 as a New Yorker propelled me to seminary, the first move of many toward what I do today.
John Shedd once wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” In the same way, we experience a certain “rightness” when we live fully too. Both leaning into faith instead of fear in the eye of the storm, and living fully rather than shrinking back into our comfort zones, involve choice. God’s hope will not only lift our spirits beyond our circumstances, but it will open the floodgate to all his spiritual reserve. It’s incredible that our Creator crafted us in such a way that our obedience should elicit our greatest joy. That’s the kind of downpour that’s life-giving.