In the 1990s, a 6-year-old boy named Ryan sat in a kindergarten class. His teacher shared that other little boys and girls in Uganda were walking miles a day just to get clean drinking water. The effort was so tiring and difficult, that children would spend up to six hours a day lugging water home to their families.
At the age of 6, Ryan figured it couldn’t cost more than, say, $70 to build a well in one of those villages. But it turned out that a whopping $2,000 would be needed before they could even start drilling. Impossible for a 6-year-old.
But Ryan was undaunted, he set off mowing yards, feeding pets and doing whatever chores he could to raise the money that was needed to drill a well in Africa. He raised $3,000 that year.
Today, the philanthropic foundation that the now-20-year-old has built has funded more than 700 projects, bringing water and sanitation to 750,000 people in 16 developing countries.
At some point in his journey, Ryan was asked to explain how a boy so young could have been so inspired and successful at making such a lasting, worldwide change.
“Because nobody told me that I couldn’t,” he said.
As a person who often takes on “impossible things,” I frequently refer to Ryan’s story to help people see that the only thing keeping them from overcoming the thing that can’t be done is their own perspective. When we put aside the things that cannot be done it becomes a whole lot easier explore the things that can.
As we learn time and again from teachable moments in the Gospel, nothing is too big for God. A pinnacle lesson of this type came early in Jesus ministry, as we read in Mark 4:35-41.
The disciples, newly introduced to these new ways Jesus was challenging them to think about God’s creation, suddenly find themselves drowning in the Sea of Galilee. Just months prior, they had dropped their fishing nets, left their families behind and decided to travel the country with this guy who claimed to be the son of God. But as the storm raged and their boat tossed, where was he?
Sleeping in the back of the boat.
“Teacher! Don’t you care if we drown?” they cried.
And in that moment, the disciples saw just how possible the impossible really was.
“Quiet! Be still,” Jesus ordered, “and even the wind and waves obeyed him.”
Jesus wasn’t worried about a little storm. He could sleep because he was in that boat, God lived within him and nothing was impossible.
Yet somehow, a few chapters away in Mark 14:32, the disciples couldn’t seem to keep their eyes open as a different kind of storm kicked up. Jesus was wide awake in that the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for the balance between heaven and earth to be settled in some way other than the loss of his own life.
“Take this cup of suffering away from me,” he said. “But let what you want be done, not what I want.”
All he asked those disciples to do was keep watch. It was only an hour. But three times he returned to the place they were stationed, only to find them fast asleep.
Makes you wonder what kinds of things our God is really concerned with.
A little storm that, if we’ve invited him into our boat, we know he will see us through?
Or making his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it has been promised in heaven.
I find it fitting so early in Christ’s ministry that he would sail his disciples into the heart of a literal storm and, well, sleep through it. But even more compelling, is that the very act of “crossing over” that lake was sending that entire group into the heart of the political and religious controversy of that time.
The “other side” of the Sea of Galilee isn’t just the West side vs. the East side. It was enemy territory—Palestinian towns, where the most “undesirable” dwelled.
Lo and behold, what should happen to Jesus and his disciples the moment they stepped off that boat? A crazy homeless man “who lived in a cave, crying out and cutting himself both day and night” would rush to Jesus’ feet to greet him.
Everybody in town knew this guy. They had chained and jailed him. They had hospitalized and tried to control him. But it was impossible to help him. The only thing they knew to do was stash him in a cave far from town and hope to minimize the damage.
Now, this stranger and his followers roll up on this man’s misery, but Jesus doesn’t think he is impossible.
If you recall the rest of the story, that conversation is the beginning of one of Christ’s great miracles. He casts out the many demons occupying that man’s body and sends them flying into a herd of pigs, who promptly stampede themselves into the lake and drown.
Nothing is impossible. We just have to be willing to join Jesus on the other side of the lake.
The weather forecast is cloudy. Expect a storm. But Jesus is in the boat. It doesn’t matter if he’s sleeping. The storms we encounter on the journey to God’s vision are not within our control.
The question is whether we can stay awake when asked to keep watch. While knowing the name of the crazy man in the cave keeps Jesus awake at night, does simply having to know put us to sleep? Do we close our weary eyes and accept the world’s suggestions of impossibility, or do we stay awake with Jesus to participate in the miracle?