The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12
It’s strange that I find myself drawn to water, considering that I almost drowned when I was five. I was exploring a field with my brother, took a false step, and found myself in another dimension: air was replaced by water, warmth with cold, peace with fear—I couldn’t swim. A scream goes nowhere in water; it drifts around your head in vacant bubbles. The experience left me terrified of deep waters, yet I always find myself drawn to lakes, ponds, and oceans. Fear is like water, like drowning. It slows movement and brings a unique degree of clarity to life. It shows what we love; it reveals our faith.
I never considered myself a fearful person. My mild arachnophobia was an acceptable trait; my acrophobia disappeared in high school, after a week on a high-ropes course; and the phantoms of my childhood hydrophobia, repressed by swimming lessons, resided only as tokens of the past. All things considered, my worries were generally healthy and relegated to practical areas of my life. The last time that panic ran rampant in my thoughts was when I stumbled across a timber rattlesnake. My mind was contemplating the dietary habits of black bass, and his senses were absorbed in basking. Our acquaintance was brief and professional.
However, as I meditated on the inevitable approach of college graduation, new revelation arrived. I had not obsessed over the future, but I always assumed that I would fall in love, graduate, and marry, in that order. In my mind, the next appointment on my calendar after marriage was death, which perhaps explained my lack of lasting romantic entanglements in the preceding years—after all, who wants to die at twenty-two? As I reflected, I realized that my assumptions were faulty. That I was not dating yet about to graduate meant that the future was not unfurling as I had always anticipated. I could not predict the future, and neither could I control it. The fear started there, innocently enough.
Within a week I was questioning everything: the certainty of a job after my final class period, the lasting nature of my friendships, whether I would ever fall in love and raise a family. Before long, graduation took on the gaping maw of a black hole. Anxiety mutated into a creature that stole my appetite for days at a time and laced my stomach with acid in the mornings, so that I frequently found myself heaving teaspoons of bile into a porcelain sink. I lost weight at a rate that the obese envied and my family abhorred.
Growing up in the Philippines, I experienced multiple typhoons and once ventured outside in the midst of the deluge. The world around me was a vortex of wind that inundated me in its soppy depths; my t-shirt and shorts, instantly soaked, clung to me. Disrobed and mangled mango trees shivered in the onslaught, and banana vines collapsed. An amalgam of leaves and water brushed against my ankles. In places, intrusions of cockroaches huddled along building walls, driven from their homes in dark sewers. The neighborhood rice terraces, normally covered in a few inches of water, drowned. Spotted gouramis darted along streets that had been transformed into streams, while catfish lingered in the shadows of doorways. Time was irrelevant, locked out with the sun by the overcast sky. The experience was a reminder of how far life resides outside human control. In chaos our need for God is most evident.
The most humbling aspect of unexpectedly fearing the future was the dichotomy that I recognized in my faith. For nineteen years, I professed belief in God, but suddenly anxiety was a daily presence. “Fear not” is the most frequent command in the Bible, yet I failed to put it into practice. Of course, the Deity’s admonition not to be afraid is no empty command; He is not a joint-smoking hippie who slurs, “Hey, man, everything will be fine; don’t worry ‘bout it.” Instead, His words come with promises: I am in control; I have not forgotten you; I work all things for the good of those who love me. Despite all this, I found myself living in hypocrisy.
My fear necessitated a return to a basic Biblical principle that I had neglected: the principle of the Sabbath. It’s a simple idea. Remember the Sabbath, keeping it holy—set apart—by doing no regular work. Scripture does not regulate the Sabbath to a particular day of the week, but it does indicate that one day a week we should stop, be still. Though the most recognized purpose of the Sabbath is rest, it has another purpose.
In the midst of my anxiety, I found myself drawn to activity, especially driving. In the driver’s seat of my car, lingered a sense of purpose and control. I owned a stick shift, and there was solace in the rhythm of clutch and gears where each of my limbs had a purpose. Searching for jobs and completing homework operated in a similar capacity; they lent a degree of control to my circumstances. However, when I decided to begin observing a weekly Sabbath again, I discovered that I faced a crisis. Taking a day off every week meant sacrificing time that would otherwise have been allocated to pursuing career opportunities and academia. Much as I had a penchant for the leisure time, I abruptly had to trust that six days of work would be sufficient.
The remaining six days of the week, I continued to search, and as I did, Jesus’ words lingered in my thoughts: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Consequently, because I was aware of the many blessings in my life, I began looking for full-time ministry opportunities.
I was asked to intern with Campus Crusade for Christ, a position that would require me to raise a year of financial support for my living expenses. I was intrigued by the idea of helping build Christian community among college students and aware that in doing so I would be following in my father’s footsteps, as he worked with Crusade for almost a decade. But, I loathed the idea of raising support. With only a few days to decide, I found myself on the porch behind my house at a point of crisis, terrified that I would somehow make the wrong decision.
Standing there on the deck, I was suspended between heaven and earth, just as I had found myself suspended in water as a child. Each breath was a gasp for peace, but peace was as elusive as I found oxygen to be eighteen years before. Friends told me that the decision would not be life changing, yet my intuition screamed that the choice would set a trend for the rest of my existence.
I leaned again the wood railing, and the coarse wood drove ridges into my forearms. The facets of my choice rotated in my mind like carnival rides, ever spinning faster, and I felt my appetite turn to nausea. A squirrel erratically scurried across my neighbor’s roof, mimicking the pace of my heartbeat.
In the midst of the maelstrom of emotions, Matthew 6:31-33 came to mind, where Jesus admonishes,
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In the wake of the passage, two questions came to mind, “Luke, do you think I’m a liar? Do you believe that I will do what I promised?”
I knew there was only one way I could answer. It was impossible to say, “Sure, God. I believe you. But, I’m not going to intern with Crusade.” In his letter to Jews, the apostle James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Even knowing those words, I hesitated, waiting for peace that refused to materialize.
Finally, I pushed off the railing before stalking inside. I settled on the couch beside my laptop and then typed out a quick message to Crusade’s regional director:
Hey, I know you said I had until Friday to decide, but I need to not put this decision off any longer. My answer is yes; I want to intern with Crusade.
I grabbed a breath and clicked “send.”
A few days later, I spent my Sabbath fishing with my father. Around noon, I caught a seven-pound black bass, my second in the last eight months. She was lurking a few feet from shore, beneath a partially submerged log, preying upon the crappie that were spawning nearby. After ensnaring the predator, I spent the rest of the day capturing the prey. As I lingered at the pond’s edge, the sun sank in the distance, leaving the horizon a strip of scarlet. Cool evening air breathed into my face. The wind stilled, the ripples faded, and the surface of the water turned to glass.