What are you missing these days?
I started a list last Friday. I planned to include its contents in this post, but it grew and grew to quite an unwieldy size. There are the items we all have posted and agree upon: family and friends, church in all its forms (worship, small groups, Bible studies), MomsConnect, playdates.
As the days and hours go by, all my weekly markers thin out. My calendar has been wiped clean of notations about my hair appointment, coffee with a friend, lunch with another, a craft workshop, and three retreats. Those things I don’t usually mark on my calendar but have been a part of my routines include trips to the library or the gym, a lazy stroll through one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhood shopping districts, or dinner out with my husband. I miss Pittsburgh landmarks, playoff hockey, and the opening day of baseball.
I miss my Sunday School kids and the ladies in my Bible study and the families in our small group. I miss Hope’s hugs (and Dara’s and all of yours). I miss celebrating birthdays and weddings and graduations. I miss gazing into the wise eyes of an elder, and I miss smelling the powdery scent of a baby.
Wow. I guess once it starts, it’s hard to keep the flow of thoughts from gushing out like water from a hydrant. No wonder I’ve felt so out of sorts, and I don’t even have the additional stress-creating circumstances of taking care of little children at home—and, as is the case for some of you, more children than are usually at home day in and day out. You moms are doing the impossible without the healthy, necessary, and sanity-saving distractions of YMCA free gym sessions, library days, KidsConnect mornings, church gatherings, shopping, or errands to manage the hours in the day.
Handling the unknown when I can’t even handle my life
Under “normal” circumstances, we learn to cope with the feelings of insufficiency, silencing the whispers that “you’re not enough” by keeping busy so we can have a sense of wellness. The litany of activities accomplished that we recite at the end of the day squishes the ache into a corner, out of sight for a while. We manage our participation in gatherings so that we regularly connect with people who affirm us. We sign our kids up for sports clubs and lessons so that their accomplishments can replenish our dry well of worth. We plan summers and semesters, school choices and shopping trips because we believe that, one of these days, in the planning we’ll feel successful and not inadequate.
And then a wild strain of a virus works its way across the world into our communities and everything shuts down, including all of our props. Suddenly, tomorrow is uncertain, and not in a “drat, the kids have a cough so we have to postpone the playdate” kind of uncertainty, but a “how much longer is my life going to be on hold?” kind of uncertainty. It’s physically draining. It’s like a dense fog has settled over us, dampening our clothes, making our progress more cumbersome. We can see just a step or two ahead on the path but no farther, yet we know that down this path they say that there is a cliff. Which step will be the one that reveals the edge? How great is the drop? Should I have packed a parachute?
And how is someone who can’t even wrangle the chaos in her own home supposed to be able to manage the unknown? Microscopic droplets in the air? We’re talking about kids who lick railings and handle everything they can reach from a shopping cart. Losing control is no longer the fear, but never regaining it. Safety becomes a stranger. Confidence that if we just know enough about this virus we can fight it slips away with every news update. Here we are, just a few weeks in and who knows how many weeks to go, and I can surely say I’ve failed this test already.
Grieving the deeper losses
Who could have imagined that the plans we were making last summer regarding this year’s MomsConnect theme and verse would provide us with months of meditation and discussions about Jesus being more than enough in any situation? Only God could have known what lay ahead. How carefully he has prepared us! We’ve studied and learned and talked for months about 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
As I was jotting those things down that I missed, I started another list:
Peace of mind
Rules to stay the same for awhile
Freedom from fear
Days like they used to be—or even just one!
Confidence I’m not making a wreck of my kids’ lives
Not feeling guilty about how I’m wasting my time
Enough in my grocery cart
Fear that I might lose a loved one to the virus
What if I don’t ever again get to go to the library or watch a playoff game or wander through Squirrel Hill enjoying an ice cream cone? It would be sad. It might call for some adjustments, but I can survive that.
But peace of mind? A return to fear-free pre-virus days? A loved one? Economic stability? Losing any one of the items in the second list would result in a significant upset in my hopes and dreams. For the first time in my life, I feel like this could happen, and the fear follows me like a shadow, like a tremor underneath my feet, threatening instant and catastrophic destabilization, the ground giving way, dark closing in.
A widely shared interview with a co-author of books on the stages of grief reveals what I and many of you are experiencing: “collective anticipatory grief” (Scott Berinato, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”). We are grieving the events that we anticipated would make us happy and fulfilled. We are grieving the affirmation and camaraderie and love we have grown to rely upon when we get together with a friend or loved one. We are grieving the days when we didn’t have to think about safety and sickness and death. We are grieving the dissipated expectations we had about tomorrow’s security and stability.
It’s okay to grieve. It’s a scary world and a heavy burden has been laid upon our shoulders. Trying to carry it in solitude and isolation makes it feel weightier. We shouldn’t suppress our sadness. We shouldn’t be working on stiffening that upper lip. We should take some time to examine and identify our fears and worries.
And we should take all of this to the cross of Christ. Talk to Jesus. Lay each one of these burdens at his feet.
Go to him with all of the perils and afflictions that loom before you in this pandemic and the residual effects on your life. He will sustain you. Prayer won’t remove the perils; that is never promised. But he does promise to sustain you through them.
Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you (Psalm 55:22a)
Jesus Christ will sustain you to the end. (1 Corinthians 1:8)
Through the burdens we are enriched. He grows grace in us; we learn to surrender, and our ability to trust and obey is refined in the fire of affliction. Without the perils of this life, we wouldn’t taste the sweetness of joy that comes through knowing what it is to be carried by Jesus who has shared in our sufferings and bears our pain.
“The God you trust in shall by that trust strengthen your heart,” says Matthew Henry.
Do you experience this confidence in his power to sustain you when you go to him? Don’t shy away. He won’t be disappointed in you. He won’t shame you. On the contrary, he is committed to you in the midst of this chaos.
The path through
At Christmastime, we sing a carol about “Good King Wenceslas”, who was the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century. The story of the song tells us about this compassionate and sacrificial ruler who was dismayed to see a poor man out late on a bitterly cold night collecting wood for his family’s fire. The snow was deep and the man had to venture far from home to find anything worth burning. It was St.Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, when rich and peasant alike were usually feasting. Wenceslas instructs his page to go back and collect food and wine and firewood that they would take to the man. The page does so, and “forth they went together, through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.”
But soon the page cries out to his master, “Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger. Fails my heart, I know not how I can go no longer.”
There it is. That’s how I feel. “No, weary page,” I whisper in my heart. “Neither can I.”
Does the page’s plea resonate with you? I suspect that these days, around the world, it is a common cry.
Mark my footsteps, my good page, Tread thou in them boldly: Thou shalt find the winter’s rage Freeze thy blood less coldly.
Look, says Wenceslas, at the path I have marked out for you. Keep to the footsteps I have made, falling neither to the right nor to the left. You can boldly press on, he tells his servant, and the very chill of the dark night will be lessened.
In his master’s step he trod, Where the snow lay dented. Heat was in the very sod Which the saint had printed.
The page’s very salvation that night depended upon the life-giving warmth from his master’s passage ahead of him. This is how it is with us, for “in Christ, we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Truly, in Jesus, he carries us through the veil of tears.
I am learning that God does not want me to be merely satisfied with prosperity and comfort. He wants me to see how fleeting it is, how I don’t need it, how easily I settle for much less than the glories I have inherited as his child, and how close I am to heaven’s gate.
“The allurements of this world,” said Charles Spurgeon, “keep us from recognizing how near we are to the unseen, supernatural, and eternal state.”
Our king is beckoning us to put aside the unsatisfying allurements of this world and follow him through the trials of this pandemic, soaking up his life, drawing comfort and security from his person, so that the frigid winds don’t cut so deeply and the night doesn’t seem so dark. It is scary. He is enough.
Caveat: There is a Balance
On the one side, it is good to remember that, in the scope of history, there is nothing unique about what we are experiencing. A popular C.S. Lewis quote recounts his reply to the question, “How shall we live in an atomic age?” (just substitute “pandemic”):
“Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays
But we also err if we try to minimize the weightiness. Indiana pastor Justin Poythress writes:
It is the air of sublty communicating, “Because I’m a Christian, I’m not worried. And if you were a Christian, or if you were a more mature Christian, you wouldn’t be worried, either.”
Yes, trusting God is ultimately the solution to our fears, now and always. . . . Here’s the reality: There’s a disease going around which is the most potent combination of lethal and contagious that we’ve seen for a hundred years. As a result, world economies are hitting the pause button—hemorrhaging billions of dollars and thousands of jobs every day. It’s like being a boxing match and getting a knock-out punch to the gut and the head at the same time.
So even if for whatever reason, we do not feel particularly anxious, we need to recognize that anxiety is a very natural response right now. We should be cautious not to replicate the error of Job and his friends: Saying things which may be theologically true, but not practically helpful. We should move towards others with transparency and vulnerability, allowing God’s strength to shine in our weakness.Justin Poythress, “Why Can’t I Stop Worrying?”, Reformation21.org
Stop putting yourself on trial. The trial is over! Jesus paid the ransom and his obedience is laid to your account! Grasp the grace that is marked for moms who follow him through the trials.
“There is no work which God has made — the sun, moon, stars and all the world — in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in midst of adversity.” ~ Jeremiah Burroughs
“Courage, my heart! Go on little by little, for many littles will make a great whole.” ~ Charles Spurgeon