In a Boat in the Middle of a Lake: Trusting the God Who Meets Us in Our Storm

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


In a Boat in the Middle of a Lake: Trusting the God Who Meets Us in Our Storm


Patrick and Ruth Schwenk


Thomas Nelson

Publication Date:

September 8, 2020




206 pages


Patrick and Ruck Schwenk were in a competitive phase in their lives when Patrick was diagnosed with blood cancer. Their children still needed raising, they had a book planned, and at forty-three Patrick was hardly prepared to learn he had “the big c.” In short, they were frightened. As they grappled with this challenging and frightening new phase, they found that God was not only there in the midst of their pain, but he seemed to be using the painful season to remove unhealthy attitudes and habits. Here they present what they learned, combining their experiences with a careful look at what the Bible says about stormy seasons.

Like most Christian memoirs or self-help books about suffering, the Schwenks spend a lot of time talking about the problem of evil and about the redemptive side of pain. Since those topics have been debated for centuries and there’s a reasonably clear Christian consensus on both, the Schwenks don’t break any new ground with startling new discoveries. However, they do two things which create a unique approach to the material.

First, they don’t try to downplay or sanitize the idea of redemptive pain and even God disciplining through pain. They carefully state that recognizing God uses suffering for good doesn’t necessarily mean he intended or directly brought in the suffering, and that discipline is not the same as inflicting pain as punishment. Still, the Bible clearly talks about God sometimes bringing suffering as a form of “discipline to beloved sons” (Hebrews 12:7) and it talks about God using suffering as a context to bring new growth. The Schwenks refuse to ignore these ideas, and spend much of the book considering how suffering can bring about growth which wouldn’t happen any other way. The book’s main metaphor, water, is very helpful in this context. Water can be serene but, as any surfer knows, it can also be pulsing with energy and dangerous to navigate. Many sailing novels have captured how traveling on water can force people to either be reborn or crushed. In short, the Schwenks use water the same way that Leonard Sweet and Mark Chironna used volcanic soil in their book Rings of Fire: the metaphor captures how harsh circumstances create unique circumstances for growth.

At the same time, people can only see the positive lessons in suffering if they have the Bible knowledge and support to guide their perceptions, which leads to the second thing the Schwenks do differently. After discussing the lessons that can be learned from suffering, they devote a chapter to honestly talk about the struggle to find Christian community in suffering. Over the last twenty years (if not longer), many American Christian writers dealing with substance abuse, disabilities and other difficult circumstances have highlighted how hard it was to find other Christians that didn’t feel awkward talking about suffering. Some writers have suggested this is primarily because American Christians don’t understand mental illness very well, which makes it hard for people struggling with things like depression or addiction to find good church communities. However, the Schwenks honestly describe how they ran into the same problem when dealing with cancer, a much-discussed medical condition that elicits lots of public sympathy. They found that after a brief period where everyone sent “get well” cards and meals, most of their church seemed to forget about their problem. Some people made an effort to still be there for them, but other trusted friends didn’t show up. They also describe an embarrassing incident where one Christian asked for an update on how they were doing and spent the conversation looking embarrassed and pained by the fact she was hearing about so much pain.

In short, the problem isn’t just mental illness stigma (although that certainly plays a part). The overall problem seems to be that many American Christians don’t know how to listen to or provide long-term help for people going through hard times. This presents a dilemma: without community, it’s hard to get the necessary teaching about suffering or the mutual reinforcement to hold onto good teachings about suffering. The Schwenks argue that in the face of poor community Christians must remember they place their hope in God, not in other Christians, and that’s certainly theologically correct. Still, their experiences raise another witness to the fact that many American congregations don’t do a very good job of helping the hurting.

An unusually compelling and honest memoir about suffering.


Rating (1 to 5 stars

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians who are going through suffering and looking for what good may unexpectedly come out of the situation.

Christian Impact

The authors make a point not to give the easiest possible answers about suffering. Instead, they honestly describe the Bible’s teachings about suffering, even ones which seem paradoxical or a bit hard to swallow. This approach is not only the most truthful, but also refreshing. There comes a point where suffering people have heard all the condescending, easy answers in church and realize that only the truth will really help. Teaching what the Bible really says, in the context of loving community, ends up being the most loving thing that Christians can do for their suffering siblings in Christ.

In a Boat in the Middle of a Lake: Trusting the God Who Meets Us in Our Storm

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: