MCNEILLIE: Learning how to rest like Jesus

October 27, 2020

Every day, while on a 30-day silent retreat, I would sit in front of an icon waiting for my spiritual director.

The icon was of Jesus, Peter and John in a little boat in the middle of a storm. The boat looks helpless, endlessly surrounded by giant waves. John is crouched in fear. Peter is standing next to him, seemingly shouting at Jesus. And Jesus — He’s asleep in the stern.

In a scene so full of chaos, Jesus looks so comfortable, so peaceful, that even I wonder: “how can you sleep through that?”

If you’re like me, then at some point over the last seven months you’ve lost sleep at night, and that’s without the wind, waves and rain.

Peacefully resting in general often seems out of reach.

Instead, the chaos of our society unraveling during a pandemic has made it easy, almost natural, to identify with John or Peter in that icon: experiencing fear or experiencing some kind of emboldened call to action (in the icon, Peter is standing in the boat while pleading with Jesus).

While we might feel uncomfortable living in that experience of fear, many of us probably feel right at home in Peter’s position. We might think that “In chaos, you’ve got to do something!” That’s certainly what Peter in this icon appears to have in mind.

All this can make Jesus’ peaceful, comfortable, resting position a mystery. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything. The more I stared at Jesus in this icon, the less I wanted to be like Peter. And instead of wondering why Jesus wasn’t doing anything, the more I wondered: “why am I doing something?”

So my question was slightly different from the apostle’s, “why are you sleeping?” or to quote Scripture, “does it not concern you that we perish?” (Mk 4:28). As I stared at the icon, I wanted to know, “how are you sleeping?”

I wanted to be like Jesus: so comfortable that I could even sleep on a boat in the middle of a violent storm.

Over the rest of the retreat, Jesus taught me the answer to my question. He’s resting in the Father’s embrace. It’s the Father who is hard at work in this icon; Jesus is just receiving.

Which means that Jesus is doing something - He’s trusting in the Father’s care for Him. Jesus trusts in His Father’s love so perfectly that He can sleep peacefully, despite the storm. Jesus’ trust is that simple, but we all know that it’s harder than it looks.

It’s not that Jesus avoids action. As we know from the Gospels, Jesus wakes up and calms the storm. He also does plenty of activity in the rest of His earthly life, including the perfect deed of offering His life on the cross.

But the beauty of Jesus’ life is that He never does anything without this trust in the Father. Jesus even goes further and says that He never does anything without the Father, period.

Today, and every day, Jesus offers this life to us. As adopted sons and daughters of the very same Father, we too can join Jesus in trusting the Father and working within that trust to bring new life into the world.

It’s the only way to ride out the storm. 

Father Richard McNeillie is the director of the Office of Vocations.