When we can no longer count on normal: a sermon to myself, and maybe you too…

It’s a tough time to be reading Revelation, but here I am–at the last book in my two-year-journey through my journaling Bible–in December of 2020. These are some of the darkest days people here in ‘the new world’ have experienced in decades…Europeans were much more affected by World War II than we were, for it was fought in their own front and back yards. Our cities were not bombed or blitzed or darkened by black-outs; surely they must have thought the end of the world was imminent.

Not being brave enough to read Revelation without a commentary at hand (I’m using an older Layman’s Bible Commentary written by Julian Love) I underlined these words: (and shortened them here for clarity)

“Oftentimes when it looks as though God’s judgments must surely be spent…there is a prolonged period [that] seems to be unchanged awaiting some final decision. And in that waiting there is opportunity to look around and gain fresh understanding of what has been going on and especially what redeeming factors God has introduced, which men in their hurried and often frantic way of life, have not observed.”

As I’m writing these words two days before Christmas, the day is lightening. The hill and trees are as black shadows against a pale pink and ivory horizon. It is a subtle sun-rising that befits these days, yet still, it is a reminder of the light that always comes after darkness: morning after night; spring after winter; the cycles of life, ordained by God.

This pandemic time is already being called the great pause–an interlude–in which, if humans were so inclined, we would/could/should “look around and gain fresh understanding.” Indeed, what  redeeming factors has God introduced that in our frantic way of life we have not observed?

There are many obvious answers–physical, emotional, and spiritual–so I think we can be ‘wholistic’ when considering this question.

We all long for the return of normal; it seems everything in our lives has been either put on hold or turned upside down. But what if God is upending our normal for His own purposes? Our frenetic pace has been forcibly slowed. If your normal was go everywhere and do everything, you have been obliged to reconsider. Many rage against this, call it the taking away of freedom, and disregard the new restrictions (at a risk to society). God does not need to rain judgment on us; we bring it on ourselves through our own foolishness, selfishness, and pride.

No matter if one is averse to change or if one embraces it, no one likes to have change forced upon them. (We do like the illusion of our control, don’t we?) Our emotions spiral out of whack when it happens, as do the above triage of sins–selfishness, foolishness, and pride.

Consider that our spiritual lives are being upended too. It is as if God Himself is saying,

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that my Son is born.

You have not listened to my still small voice,

so hear now the thunder and the storm.

We miss it now at peril to our lives and our souls…

I was going to end this sermon there for dramatic purposes, but I couldn’t.  Because there is always light after dark.

The darkness is given to us so that we understand light. Fear, grief, illness and death, instability–all things of the dark that have been so prevalent this year–are appointed to us so that when joy arrives, when our blessings are counted, when our hope wins, it can all be more glorious.  This year I wrote on Christmas cards a verse from the Gospel of John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5, and this next one is like it:John 1:9

Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the dark, as well as in the light. In this darkest of years, in this darkest of months, in these darkest of days, let’s not forget that He experienced the greatest darkness of all. So that we would not have to live in the darkness forever. So that we can have that great hope of joy even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

So I ask us all to consider what it is that God is showing us through this time that we have not observed. It will be something different for us all, I think. But let’s not waste this time, and then automatically go back to normalcy when we can. This is a wake-up for the world, isn’t it?

A radical change is being called for; what will that look like for you?

 

Thoughts on Quarantining

Yes, we’ve been being careful.

Not going anywhere without a mask, staying away from group activities, limiting our shopping in real stores, and still…

Here I am in quarantine, waiting on test results, and best case scenario–out of quarantine on Dec. 1.

Thoughts are swirling….

Perhaps I am being too cautious and don’t really need to do this? I had my mask on. It was about a five-minute encounter with an old lady who shouldn’t have answered her door because she had the virus. (What am I saying? I’m an old lady! But she is older than me, so that makes it ok?) Even more so, she shouldn’t have coughed at me when she opened the door.  She opened the door to tell me she shouldn’t be opening the door…

It is better to err on the side of caution, isn’t it? This is how the virus spreads–people think they are the exception and don’t bother to follow what the health experts have told us to do. Or worse, they flaunt their unbeliefs and don’t social distance, don’t wear masks, and call the virus a hoax in the name of personal freedom.

I’m isolating myself, even though it seems silly because I feel fine,  but I don’t want to be considered one of those people. Just suppose my dear 88-year-old neighbor came down with this because of me…

I feel like a slacker because I’ve canceled things I had committed to doing. Even though everyone assures me that’s just the way it is in 2020, I remain unpersuaded and feeling guilty. (But maybe I feel guilty because I really like staying home with no responsibilities?)

The truth is, I wake every morning and in my groggy, still half-asleep state, I think: Ok, what do I have to do today? And then I relax when I realize the answer is NOTHING…

It really is forced rest and I’ve never been good at it. It’s not that I’m a whirlwind of 24/7 activity, but I have things to do and I need to do them. As I was thinking about this, I remembered an essay I wrote about this very thing a few years ago and I went to reread it. (It’s here if you want to read it too.)

Yes, even then in the midst of busy-ness I was unhappy about the forced rest because I had plenty of things on my to do list…

Perhaps it is the feeling we all share–that we are important and what we have to do is important and nothing had better get in the way of that importance.

Perhaps it is the feeling of guilt that many of us have when we sit and do nothing–we learned it years ago, maybe?

Conscience: What are you doing?
Me: Nothing.
Conscience: Well, you’d better get up and do something. What will people think? Are you lazy? Don’t you know that through laziness the rafters sag and the house leaks because of idle hands?
Me: No. I’m just resting for a few minutes.
Conscience: What if someone sees you just sitting here doing nothing when the kitchen floor needs scrubbing, the house is messy, and your bed isn’t even made! You’d better have two or even three projects going, you know, so people won’t think you are a retired bum.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe I am a retired bum who is quarantined for a reason…So I can make peace with rest. And by the way, Get behind me, Satan…

It’s long past time to let this stuff go…

Many times during this pandemic lockdown time of 2020 I’ve wondered what it is God is trying to tell us. Sometimes we don’t know what it might be until hindsight makes it plain, but I’m thinking that, without a doubt, this is to be a time of reassessment; of determining what is important; a season of quiet. God called it Sabbath Rest. He said: Stop doing and just be. Reacquaint yourself with Me.

It’s become increasingly clear that we can’t. We keep trying to find workarounds and solutions and new ways to keep on doing. Our stuff is important, after all…

I thought I was doing fine–cutting back on activities, staying away from unnecessary store trips, not eating out–you know, the stuff we are all doing? But then real quarantine happened and I realized that I can’t go Anywhere. And what is important, anyway? What if I like staying home too much? Its hard enough to fight my introvert tendencies…

sun in dark clouds

Of course, some parts of living can’t just stop. And finding ways to help each other cope and survive are crucial, but to be honest for a minute: I am feeling guilty for not living my old life and I am fearful of giving it up. I don’t really like waiting either…

I think that could be part of the problem with those who refuse to wear masks and think the virus is a hoax: that fear and unwillingness to admit that things may change. We like to think we are in control; our feelings of control are directly related to our importance.

God is changing things up. He is telling us, “I am the Lord of the sky and the sea. Call on me, and let me be your rest.” He also tells us over and over: “Do Not Fear.”

Turn off the news. Breathe in deeply. Say your gratitudes. Let your need for importance evaporate into the night breeze.

Let God have the control button.