A Hand To Catch Us | COVID-19 Reflection

April 17, 2020

by Dave Ebenhoh, Vice President, Mission Integration

Let’s start with a story ....

One evening, after a long day of being surrounded by crowds of people, Jesus herded his closest followers into a boat and sent them ahead of him to the other side of the sea. Then, after sending them off and the crowds away, he went up a mountain by himself to pray.

Meanwhile, the boat was being tossed around in the sea. With the wind against them, they weren’t able to make much progress, fighting against the waves all night. Finally, just before dawn, Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When his disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified: "It’s a ghost! Stay away!" But at once Jesus said to them, "Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid."

Peter called out to him, "Lord, if it’s really you, command me to come to you on the water." And, so Jesus said, “Come.”

Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus, but when he felt how strong the wind was, he became frightened and began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me!" and immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him.

As I hear this story again, in the midst of COVID-19, there are so many seemingly obvious parallels: the flood of emails in our inboxes, the slew of new daily meetings, the guidelines and direction that change by the hour, the kids running through the room or crying for our attention, fear and confusion in our hospitals as caregivers try to do things that have never been done, the 12-16 hour workdays for weeks on end…. the list goes on.

Now, I would love to tell you that if we all just cry out “Lord, save us!” all together that the storm would stop - that gowns and masks and ventilators would appear from the sky and the virus would disappear, leaving everyone healed and dazed. But I don’t actually think it works that way.

I think this story is actually about what happens inside us in times like the one we’re living through right now. Because, as important as it is to find masks and gowns, and to attend to our children who need us, the bigger fears and uncertainties inside us are the real storm waves that threaten to pull us under: spouses who have lost jobs or their business, children who were excited to graduate in a few months and now don’t know what awaits them; elderly parents at risk of not only getting sick but dying, retirement dreams disappearing as the economy shuts down, or risking our own health and that of our families to serve the patients who need us right now.

This story is about not having control, and realizing that we never had the control we thought we had - and what we do next.

I can imagine Peter getting out of the boat and starting to walk on the water. I can imagine him starting to feel the power of it, starting to feel like he could control the sea, thinking to himself, “Look at me! Look at what I’m doing!” And right then, he starts to sink and the waves of fear start to overtake him, not unlike the waves of fear and uncertainty that might be swirling inside us and threatening to pull us under right now. And as he sinks, Peter does the only thing he can - he yells for help, not because he’s some great faith-filled man, but because he’s terrified. Just like we are.

And we come to the most important line in this story: “Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him.”

While I don’t believe in the magic of God making gowns and masks fall from the sky, I do believe in the true miracle of God stretching out a hand and catching us in the midst of our fears. I believe in the miracle that we are never truly alone.

So, as we do everything in our power to make things better, may we recognize that the power we feel - the sliver of control we grasp at - doesn’t come from us and is not ours. It is a gift. And it’s temporary. Let us be grateful for the gift of feeling that power and sense of control while it is there, and be ready to call out for help as it fades and we begin to sink, for the real power is in being caught, not walking on the water.

O God, stretch out your hand and catch us.