Editors note: I am publishing this blog post a second time since it appears to have gotten lost in the midst of several other posts last week. It is worth reading and reading again.
Exactly a week ago today, I left town to be with my 89 year-old dad. He was having partial knee surgery. That, just as the corona virus was barreling around the globe causing disruption, disease, and death along with their companion’s uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The timing of surgery in this moment seemed questionable, but I sensed God’s leading so I went, ready to help. I am not going to lie; it felt a scary being in a hospital during a pandemic.
While Dad was in surgery, I listened to our governor’s press conference that basically began the process of putting the brakes on life as we know it here in California. I agree with the steps he was putting in place but it was still amazing to hear it. Reality can be that way. What a day that was.
Dad is recovering now and I am home. It was weird to come home, just 5 days later, to find everything different from when I left. I am not really one who loves change. I pivot slowly (I’m a self-preservation 9 for those of you who know the Enneagram). I love certainty, routine, peace, comfort, and security. A lot. This time of everything changed is challenging. For all of us, for all of our own unique reasons.
I was/am paying close attention to my inner life. It is, after all, what drives our outer life. I have learned we can grow during hard times rather than diminish, as we seek God in the midst of it. It is not a magic cure all to suffering, we do live in a broken world, but it is a silver lining. I have long since found Isaiah 45:3 to be true (tho sometimes in hindsight).
I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, Who summons you by name.
It is Lent. I have been in Week 3 of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius (using Larry Warner’s excellent book, Journey with Jesus). This is the five-week deep dive into Jesus’ journey to the cross. What a phenomenal time to be in these powerful passages.
Jesus told His disciples what was going to happen; He was going to suffer and die and they would all abandon Him. Somehow this didn’t fit with their expectations, their paradigm of what Messiah-ship was to look like. So, although confused, they filed it away somewhere so they didn’t have to think about it. Ummmm. I can relate.
No surprise to Jesus though. He knew they weren’t ready or able to process what He was telling them but He knew it would someday make sense. John 13:7 tells us,
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Seems this is happening for us in this moment, we just don’t get it.
We are ever in the school of Jesus aren’t we? Thankfully, He is patient with us. I have heard it said that the things of God are slow. I personally think we are the slow ones. We are like little kids, distracted, impressed with shiny things.
Right now shiny things are being stripped away.
Things we like.
Shopping (finding what we want).
Coffee with friends.
A movie out.
All up in the air like a deck of cards in 52-card pick up. I ran into a young woman the other day who couldn’t find diapers for her baby. This is an unprecedented time for the entire world and in some places it is truly dire.
As I was “journeying with Jesus” these last weeks, I found myself relating to our friend Peter. He and his cousin John followed Jesus after He was arrested. I say kudos to them, so brave! Yet it says they followed at a distance, so they were hedging their bets a bit. Do we see ourselves there at all? I see myself for sure.
I imagine how Peter felt right about then. I think there was confusion. Certainly fear and anxiety. Anger as he saw Judas and the so-called religious leaders of the time and their role in this travesty. The rosy future Peter saw ahead was quickly dissipating like fog when the sun rises. Of course we know Jesus had different dreams for Peter. Better dreams. Yet this was his present reality.
I feel those same things in the reality of a worldwide pandemic, life style limitations, financial concerns, surgery for a beloved, aging parent, concern for my kids and theirs. Uncertainty. Darkness. Peter must have had some hope. Jesus had a way of doing the unexpected. But it was not to be as he hoped. He saw Jesus led away to die. Peter was dealing with dashed expectations. One of my favorite sayings is, today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments. So here are Peter’s hopes and dreams dying, the denials quickly followed.
Living in uncertain times we need to be especially careful. We need to be very aware and honest about what is going on within us. Recently I heard that worldwide, people are experiencing the normal stages of grief. So understandable. There are layers of loss in all of our lives. Some big, some little, but loss is loss. God willing it won’t get that bad but I think we all have some level of dread wondering, how will this end? The worst thing we can do is deny or over spiritualize how we are feeling in all of this. Instead we can ask for courage as we ask the Lord how He will use these days in our lives.
The truth is, Jesus had Peter right where He wanted him. It was uncomfortable but it was a pinnacle moment in Peter’s life. When that cock crowed, at that moment, he had to realize,
JESUS IS LORD OVER ALL.
Repeat that 3 times. Out loud. Try it.
Jesus knows and has power over all things. He knows beyond time and space. He knows exactly everything that’s going on in each of our lives. Jesus knew the nanosecond Peter would utter his last denial, a rooster would crow. He broke down realizing he failed to trust his Lord. I think he got it in a new deep down way; Jesus is trust-worthy. And in that realization he was a changed man, someone Jesus could use to help birth the baby church.
In this season of social distancing, sheltering in place, job loss and invisible viruses we can find hope, peace, and even joy in the midst of it all, by reminding ourselves Jesus is Lord over all, by spending quality time with Him One on one. We can be on the lookout for the good coming from this (not to deny the reality of human suffering as well).
We have been experiencing so much conflict and division in the world. Even in the church. All of a sudden, this virus, this tiny invisible thing is inviting us work together for the sake of the greater good. We don’t hug or shake hands, not only for our own health but for the sake of the others. I have a sense of this being like a giant web of love being woven around the world. Human kindness spreading, hopefully faster than disease. We are finding the value of community as we find distancing difficult. We need one another and always have. This is community at work. Unity. Something the Lord values so much.
I also honestly feel in this gigantic slow down we have opportunity.
Opportunity to spend more time with the Lord.
Opportunity to reach out to others to see how they are doing, to listen to them, and encourage them.
Opportunity to talk on the phone for a good bit of time rather than shoot off a quick text.
Opportunity to read a book, take a walk, do/learn something new.
Opportunity to find ways to spend time together that are fun and meaningful as families.
Opportunity to do a bit of self-inventory.
Opportunity to listen and understand one another more.
Opportunity to practice not worrying.
Opportunity to learn to trust.
I’m looking for the light that is leading us in this global moment. I am praying for life and love to prevail as we seek to use this time to grow and prosper as individuals and as community. I think it is important, especially in difficult times, to have the mindset of asking the Lord what it is He wants us to learn in the circumstances of our lives. We can seek to discern what He might be doing in and through us, even if it is to be still. We can trust Jesus when He said His Father is always at work. We can notice He calls God Father here; this is certainly no coincidence.
But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” John 5:16
Questions for Reflection:
Q What am I struggling with not having or doing? Why? How might I develop a bit of indifference to these things in order to allow them to come and go in my life without all the angst? How might I shift my focus from what I can’t do/have and notice something new I can have/do?
You might make 2 lists here.
- List the losses you are grieving. Awareness around these things is important. It helps us be more tender towards ourselves and those around us.
- List what you can add to your life in your circumstances, things that are good for body and soul.
Q What emotions am I grappling with (keeping in mind it is absolutely different for each of us)? There is no shame in how we feel. I find comfort knowing Jesus lived as one of us and gets it. Try to be specific, not heroic. It is so helpful to talk to the Lord about how we feel.
Q What expectations of life, of others, and/or of God, are being challenged, reframed in my life? How might God be using unexpected changes to reveal structures and attachments in my life that distract and disconnect me from the Lord?
Q Where is God at work in my life? What is He teaching me about life in His eternal kingdom through all of this? Journal this. Be patient as it unfolds over time.
I am going to close with a few passages of scripture God has given me in the last few weeks that have been informing, comforting, and reminding me. I read the Psalms daily and have found myself stuck in Psalm 86; it is so perfect to pray these days! There is so much of God’s goodness in it. The Psalms have a way of mirroring what it is to be human in all sorts of situations as well as what it is to turn to God through it all. I find myself asking for God’s mercy along with David. We so need His mercy around the globe. So you might turn there. Also, the passages below have been good guides for me. You might meditate on them, letting different aspects of them speak into your soul for the next few weeks. Look for whatever lights up for you, day by day in these (or other) passages. Discern a word or a phrase and let them refresh you and light your way. And remember, we are all in this together.
What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion Who initiates and perfects our faith.Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up.
Love this! Very thoughtful read for this mornings devotion. I love the encouragement to be real with our emotions regarding our situation, and not to over spiritualize. It’s easy to jump to what may seem like the “right” conclusion because we sense this is the Christian thing to do. But God already knows how we really feel, and I believe He delights in our honesty and authenticity. Thanks for sharing this insightful message.
Thank you, Karen. I am encouraged by all the opportunities that you shared for God to move inside us during this season. I am reminded of Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the substance and assurance of things hoped for. In this season I am praying for specific things to hope for from God. I have been asking Him to show me his specific hopes for this time. Your article gave a glimpse of God’s heart in this season. Bless you.
A valued writing, Karen. Thank you! Among your beautiful heart and excellent writing, I especially loved your: 2 Lists in the Reflection section. It’s healing for me to consider what I’m feeling and what I’ll put on the list.
Thank you again and may God richly bless you.