We stood on the dam, peering over the edge. The roar was deafening.
“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.
“Yes, honey. That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”
I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below. It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us. Daddy and mommy were there with her. What did she have to fear?
She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.I thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.
Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides. You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.
It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge. I liked this better. Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot. The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees. Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.Or were they?
I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns. The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.
Was there no escaping trouble? No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t. If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.
This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe. It was a certainty. If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit. If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional. If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through. (Yep, just this morning.) And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.
So what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him. If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did. But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:
“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”
That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked. So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway. The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids. She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions. In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.This was peace.
Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us. The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence. It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.
I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)