In the account in Mark Chapter 6:35-44 of the King James Version of the New Testament, we read of the Savior feeding the five thousand, following which he sent the multitude away. He then asked his disciples to take a ship to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he “departed to the mountain to pray.” After ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of the multitude, he spent time away from others and far into the night, communing only with his Father in Heaven.
In his volume “When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered,” S. Michael Wilcox, an instructor at the University of Utah Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writes of the “Principle of the Fourth Watch.” The daylight hours of the New Testament began at six in the morning until six in the evening, while the night was divided into four watches: six until nine at night, nine until midnight, midnight until three. The fourth watch began at three in the morning and ended at six o’clock, near sunrise.
During this time, a storm had swept down on the disciples in their ship: “And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them” (Mark 6:47–48). For anyone who has rowed a boat, it takes considerable strenuous effort to get anywhere when the wind is contrary. After a number of hours of “toiling in rowing,” they would find themselves in danger as their strength ran out.
In John’s account we read: “And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs …” (John 6:18–19).
As described by Wilcox, a furlong is about 220 to 225 yards, so the disciples were rowing the equivalent of 65 to 70 football fields, into the wind, during a storm. “They did not know that Jesus was aware of their danger. They didn’t realize he was up on the hill looking down watching them. They only knew that they had rowed a long time, the wind remained contrary, that they were exhausted, and that they needed help.”
I first read this when my husband was finishing another two rounds of difficult chemo in preparation for a fairly standard, and in his case his only remaining option — a donor T-cell immunotherapy infusion to strengthen his transplant. His regular complete blood count measured at near zero leukemia blasts, an encouraging sign. He was then hospitalized for a five-day infection so trying that he couldn’t bear the treatment any longer. The doctor pleaded with us to wait for the results of the bone marrow biopsy before we gave up and went home.
“About the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, … [and] they … saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased” (Mark 6:48–51) Wilcox continues: “I have a feeling that the Apostles … would have had the Lord come in an earlier watch. The issue at hand … often occurs when I see someone I love seemingly denied righteous longings or called to endure life’s trials beyond reason.”
The results of the bone marrow biopsy were grim, indeed. The leukemia was unexpectedly winning the race. There would be no final procedure. I took my husband home and began hospice care. Our children and grandchildren gathered to say goodbye and to each receive a Father’s blessing from him. The winds have ceased, and we have been in the middle of an outpouring of the love of friends and family as my husband has discovered how treasured he is.
“Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Clinton is not afraid, and has no regrets. He wanted to stay, but his Heavenly Father is calling him home. Love always, darling husband.
PATTY KENNINGTON is a long-time resident of the western Treasure Valley, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She can be reached in care of The Argus Observer, 1160 S.W. Fourth St., Ontario, OR 97914. The Argus Observer weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.