As the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaches it looks as though we will be celebrating it in different ways this year. Many families will forego the larger extended family gatherings. Travel that brings households together from across the state or nation is being discouraged. Plans are being made for virtual gatherings, or smaller gatherings where check-ins can be had through Facetime or Zoom meetings. All of this is of course due to the continued spread of the Coronavirus, which is clearly in the midst of a surge in most places.
Given these circumstances, and the impact Covid-19 continues to wield on many other facets of life, I found myself thinking lately that I’m kind of over all of it. (Or I wish we could be). I never thought, as a pastor, I would discourage people from coming to church once in the course of a year, let alone twice. Just as we were enjoying and doing pretty well with some additional in-person gatherings, we’ve felt it best to pull back on those in an abundance of caution. But man, it just stinks to have to do this again! And it’s difficult to break that news to people – even people who agree with it, let alone those who have different opinions. So, for much of the past few days I’ve not been feeling overly thankful. In fact, given all that 2020 has thrown our way, I – like a lot of people – would just as soon usher it out the door; if only that would solve all our challenges.
Waiting can be one of the most challenging things a human being is called to do. When we are young it is especially hard to wait. We say, “I can’t wait for Christmas! or my birthday, or whatever it is we are anticipating. But, as we get older waiting doesn’t seem to get any easier, does it?
It’s hard to wait for news from the lab. It’s difficult to wait for a hoped for phone call, text or email. We may find ourselves checking our devices repeatedly, anxiously waiting when wanting to know something now.
America is currently getting a lesson in waiting. We are awaiting the results of this week’s Presidential election, after waiting all the weeks for it to get here. Several states remain in play as I write this blog, two days after Election Day. But this is not all we are waiting on. We are also waiting on some good news about the 2020 health pandemic. We are waiting on a vaccine or proven therapeutic that will hold this virus at bay and allow life to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic living. Once that treatment is approved we will be waiting for it to be distributed.
As a full-fledged citizen of contemporary culture I too wish we didn’t have to wait so long. Like you, I’m used to day of results, quick service and timely outcomes. Yet, as one who reads and studies Scripture and strives to follow Christ, I know that God often reveals things through waiting. Just consider how many times the people of God endured long periods of waiting. Generations of Hebrews waited for deliverance in Egypt (430 years). Then they waited 40 years in the wilderness. Later it was 70 years in exile. Then they waited 400 years from the last Old Testament prophet to John the Baptist’s announcement of Messiah Jesus. Waiting has been baked into the faith experience. God is seldom in a hurry. Faith is a long obedience in the same direction.
In truth when we follow Christ all of life is about waiting. We await the full coming of the Kingdom of God. We wait for creation to be restored. We wait to join the company of all the saints. We wait for Jesus to come again.
So, this waiting thing, while tiresome and a bit tedious, is not new. We should be well-practiced in it. It’s what we do while waiting that may be more important. Do we fret? worry? complain? whine? Not too much will come of any of that. Do we pray? ponder? reflect? listen? Probably a much better set of choices. Do we trust? Put our faith in God’s future? Prioritize not according to this world’s powers and principalities, but those of the kingdom of heaven? Do we sit with the one who is anxious? Console the one who is grieving? Encourage the one who is despondent?
Waiting could be a productive exercise if only we had the patience to do it well.
In a recent article, author Jake Owensby uses the term “crisis fatigue” to describe the tumultuous climate we are living through today in the world.
He says, “Confronted by a relentless barrage of stress-inducing events, we respond with a draining mixture of exhaustion, rage, disgust, despair, anxiety and grief. We want things to change, but the problems seem so huge that we don’t know where to start. We begin to wonder if we could make a real difference anyway. We’re overwhelmed.” (Ministry Matters: “Do the right next thing”)
Owensby’s words resonated with me as I consider my ongoing response to 2020, and as I walk alongside many others who, like me, are trying to faithfully follow Jesus in the midst of a global pandemic, struggling economy, racial unrest, natural disasters and contentious election year. People are simply tired. In fact, “tired” doesn’t do it justice. “Fatigue” is a much better word. Fatigue carries in its meaning the accumulative effect of tiresome events, issues, and engagements. Tired is overcome by a good night’s rest. Fatigue is only overcome by a more intentional and lengthy response.
Earlier this week the United States surpassed 200,000 deaths due to Covid-19. This NBC News story gives a good summary of the impact of this number in our country.
On May 29, 2020 I wrote about the 100,000 deaths caused by Covid-19. In just shy of four months we’ve doubled that number, and some experts estimate it could double again toward the end of the year.
So, why focus on these numbers? Why blog about such sad news? My answer to that as a pastor is that we need to grieve. There has been so much focus on “getting back to normal” and “re-opening the country and our economy” and “pushing for a fast-track vaccine”. I fear in the rush and hurry we are overlooking our need to grieve.
There is a quote attributed to philosopher Soren Keierkegaard that says: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I think this is a very apt saying in these days. In my pastoral visits and talks with people over the past few days, the conversation has often paused around current events for a time. Top among these events, of course, is the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s related happenings:
– Should school resume? If so, how? In person or online?
– When will we all be able to come back to church? As it used to be?
– When will this (virus, time of caution, etc.) be over?
– What will life (ministry, work) look like post-virus?
Many of these questions are forward looking. But they also carry a yearning for understanding that may only be available in hind sight – that is by looking backward. This makes me ponder the relationship between the choices we make to move forward, and how they will be judged when at last we can look backwards. Do you follow?