My wife and I love to spend time in the wilderness, as we love the quiet and spiritual nourishment we receive by being in nature. Several years ago we were canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, a very remote park that is only accessible by canoe. I remember well an experience we had one stormy day. We had awoken early and had to make the decision about whether it was safe to spend the day on the water, as a storm was predicted. My wife thought we should stay put where we were on shore. I thought it made sense to take off and try to get to the next lake, which was a mile or so away, before the storm arrived. After a brief discussion, we decided to take off, hoping for the best.
We loaded up the canoe with all our packs and took off across the very large lake we had been camping on. A half hour later we were in the middle of the lake and a strong thunderstorm suddenly arose. We were at least fifteen minutes from the closest shore when I noticed that the storm had come up behind us. In the next few minutes the sky became increasingly dark, the wind was whipping around us, and the temperature was dropping. Soon there was lightening in the distance, and we both knew the last place we wanted to be at that moment was sitting in a canoe in the middle of that large body of water. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed with fear.
So what did we do? We did what any two people would do in such a situation. We began to argue, right there in the middle of the lake! The argument started when my wife began to raise her voice over the wind, yelling, “I told you there was a chance of a storm and that we shouldn’t have come out here today!” Soon the shouting went back and forth, with me asking and directing, “Why aren’t you paddling harder?” “Don’t paddle on the left, paddle on the right!” And then we began to debate about which point of land to head towards.
After a few minutes of futile arguing we agreed to stop talking and focus instead on getting to shore safely. Fortunately, a while later when we were safely on shore, we found our sense of humor and realized that we had not really been mad at each other, but instead the approaching storm had scared us both so much that we had begun to turn against each other. The storm was the “problem” and yet in the midst of our anxiety we had temporarily made each other the “problem.”
Whenever a group of people find themselves in the midst of a “storm” the people that make up the groups are vulnerable to turning against one another, rather than turning toward one another to constructively work together to problem solve. There are many serious “storms” that we face as a country and it is easy to be overwhelmed by fear as we work to face them. Perhaps this is one way to understand why politics in our country have become so negative and polarizing. In the midst of our storms it is easy to turn against one another and to cast blame on the other person, the other party, or anyone we can find to blame for the storm. If we aren’t careful we might hear ourselves just as my wife and I did that day on the lake, yelling, “You got us into this mess!” “We need more paddling on the left!” “No we don’t–we need more paddling on the right!” “You have us heading in the wrong direction.What are you thinking?!” “You are the ones responsible for this mess!”
All people are vulnerable to turning against one another in the midst of adversity or hard times because we are afraid. This includes couples, families, organizations, work teams, communities, and people within a nation. At such times we need to remember to take a step back, allowing for a greater perspective. Even when people are feeling strongly divided and frightened, there is, more than likely, more that unites them than that what is dividing them. It is up to us then to work to find that common ground and find ways to solve the scary problems, no matter what different perspectives we may have.
There is a profound piece of wisdom in the Bible that speaks to the relationship between difference in perspectives and the love and fear they create.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18.
This passage reminds us that love is stronger than fear. Mature love, well-formed love, banishes fear. The challenge though for all of us is that this truth can work the other way around as well, fear can also banish love. This is exactly what happened to us in the midst of that thunderstorm in the middle of a large Canadian lake. The storm created fear in both of us, and the fear temporarily overshadowed our love and our ability to work together as a team.
I pray that love will cast out fear in the months and years ahead for our country. I know there are now, and will be times going forward when it may feel like fear is stronger that love, but it is my belief that in the end, love is always stronger than fear, and that in the long run, love always wins.