For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” -Isaiah 41:13
What were your biggest challenges and struggles?
As the Prepare-Enrich post points out, when we are in the midst of difficulty, we cannot understate the significance of our struggles. Often we worry we will never make it through. This is true for our personal lives, our closest relationships, and our church. Even though the times of trial seem insurmountable in real time, once we make it through we often look back and think, “Oh! That wasn’t so bad…” or “It could have been so much worse if…”
This kind of hindsight minimizing enables us to forget the significant toll that challenges can take on our relationships. And, if we fail to recognize the significance of the struggle, we won’t be able to celebrate the significance of making it through. So, before we get too far away from 2021 or 2020, let’s take a moment to name some of the challenges and struggles that we have endured and come through together.
Facing the Unknown(s): Life is full of unknowns, this is true, but these last couple of years have ushered in so many that at times it feels like there are no knowns. Will the kids be in school this semester? How many asynchronous days will they have? Are teachers safe in the classrooms? What if I don’t want everyone to see the inside of my house on a zoom call, how can I avoid that? Will I have time to exercise? Is it safe to grocery shop? Are other people going to be wearing their masks? Will I regret going to this family gathering? Will I regret not going? Is church a safe place to gather? When will this spike / surge end? How long will this last? Will anything ever feel the same again?
The struggle of not knowing has taken a toll on us all as we have tried to plan and re-plan over and over again. There is a special fatigue we are all feeling as the season of unknowing bears its weight on us all.
Isolation: Although the introverts among us may enjoy some of the alone or at-home time this pandemic has provided, even they are suffering the effects of ongoing isolation. Before the COVID pandemic hit, social researchers were studying and concerned about the levels of loneliness many of us were feeling. Despite having more tools for connection than ever before, we – as a society – were lonelier than ever. Now that we have experienced months and months of social distancing and staying at home, we are in a deep well of loneliness.
I believe that human beings were created for relationship. We were created by a relational God who longs to connect with us and we were created for community with one another. In these pandemic months we have not been able to talk, to worship, to show up, to sing, to hug, to hold hands, to cry, or even to eat together. These are just a few of the connecting tools we’ve had to set aside for a while. Though we have discovered new ways to sustain our relational connections (Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, old-school phone call, card in the mail, email, text, etc.) we have also learned that these tools are not the same as the old ones. Being together virtually or on the phone or in the mail is not the same as being together in person. We need one another in very real, embodied ways. Being apart is hard.
Grief: This is a big one for us. As members of this church, we have made a promise to share life with one another. We promise it before God, so it is something we take seriously. In our pre-COVID lives when grief arrived, so did casseroles, flowers, and the company of church friends who knew how to sit with us in our pain. Now, we are unsure about how to show up for one another. The safety of a hug, a hand shake, or even a high five has vanished into our memories of a past long gone. Funerals have been postponed, put on hold, or at best re-imagined to allow for distance and diminished crowds. All the usual ways we shared in our grief seem to have gone away.
In addition to that, the grief that follows death is not the only grief we have experienced. We are grieving the loss of social interactions and of restaurants we used to love to frequent. We are grieving the ability to make plans and keep them. We are grieving the loss of rituals that marked significant moments in our lives (birthday celebrations, sleepovers, dinner parties, spiritual gatherings, etc.). Yes, we have discovered new ways of marking these important moments, but things just aren’t the same. And there is grief with that.
Naming the struggle for what it is… and finding God in it.
In a recent webinar with Google employees, Trevor Noah reminded the group that a critical component to torture is the element of surprise. That’s right. If you want to do some serious psychological harm, keep catching people off guard to erode their sense of safety and security. Now, I doubt many of us would describe these last 24 months as torture, but recognizing the power of everything unknown in our lives legitimizes how we are feeling (worn down, exhausted, anxious, stressed, depressed, etc.). It is no wonder we are all feeling the way we are.
There is good news! Our scriptures tell the story of a God who cares deeply for us – especially in times of struggle and challenge. In the reading for worship on Sunday (January 30th) Isaiah gives us a beautiful image of a God who would “stretch out shade like night at the height of noon” (chapter 16) in order to cover and shield us from pain. This is just one of the many examples and illustrations of God’s love told in scripture. What are the verses, stories, images, promises, etc. that help you remember that you are never alone? What are some of the memories from this last year or two, where you can clearly see (even in hindsight) that God was with you?
Perhaps even as we share the struggles of life with one another, we could also share the memories of God’s presence as a testimony to the goodness of God who is always with us!