By Stephanie Unger
Fifteen years after buying an 11-bedroom rooming house in Winnipeg’s beautiful but hurting Spence neighbourhood for the experiment of living out faith in community, Stephanie, her husband Travis and their kids, Shadrach and Rachel, embarked on a sabbatical.
They had lived intensely, helping plant the house church network of Many Rooms Church Community, sharing their home and life with over 80 tenants and trying to be good neighbours; it was time to inhale with the same intensity. To “ ‘Come with me [Jesus] by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31–32).
They left Winnipeg, towing their sailboat Schemma down south, and splashed her into the Gulf of Mexico to sail around Florida, across to the Bahamas and managed to return six months later.
For details, check out http://www.ungersail.com. This is the first of a series of four articles.
It was our second night passage on the ocean and this time I was prepared. (For the land-lubbers reading this, a night passage simply means sailing through the night and usually involves the captain and crew taking turns at the helm.)
During one of my shifts on the first passage, I experienced an uncomfortable mix of anxiety and sleepiness so strong I could hardly keep my eyes open. It felt like morning would never come. This time, with my family sleeping close by, I had snacks and drinks within reach and was wide awake, my heart swelling to an inspirational soundtrack playing through my headphones. Songs of God’s amazing love and power filled me with awe. The multitude of stars above and over 2,000 feet of ocean below seemed to cradle the boat. Sure of this enfolding presence, I piloted us through the darkness.
It occurred to me that I might not feel so sure that this wide open ocean and endless sky was “enfolding me in God’s love” if I was suddenly swept overboard and left floating in the sea, while the boat sailed away without me! Why do I trust God more when it is obvious I am safe than when it is not so obvious? By now I know that God is always good and really does work all things together for good for those who love him and are following his call.
Fact: I am not any closer to God when I feel his presence than when I feel alone—or when I see where he is leading me than when it seems like he’s made a mistake. The book of Acts tells us of Christians who were able to sing praises while in prison and face death with acceptance. They truly believed that they were safe in God’s hands and God knew what he was doing. Could this be the secret of the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7)?
Without this peace, we can feel a panicky need to fight to change our situation (or the world). If we are honest with ourselves, this is because we are pretty sure that God must be wrong in allowing us to be where we are. This struggling to escape keeps us from experiencing the miracle of seeing what God can do. Living in the truth that God is always closer than our breath will enable us to face danger and evil with peace and joy. When we believe that God is right(eous) even when the situation is very wrong, we can let God guide us rather than freezing up or digging in our heels.
The image of being left behind in the huge, dark ocean is still quite a frightening one to me. I guess I still have a ways to go before I am a true believer: confidently trusting God in all situations. How about you?