This is part thee of a three-part series (March 14, 2022)
Exactly two years ago I officially began my lock down, stay at home, online life. How strange and unexpected and disconcerting it is that life can suddenly change so drastically. Suddenly all activity stopped – the beaches were shut, the hiking trails were closed, the freeways were empty, there were no children in classrooms and we were all desperately wiping down our groceries because we didn’t yet know how this virus was transmitted.
If I am being honest I was weirdly happy about it in an admittedly selfish way. I was probably one of the few extraverts that felt that way and my reason was simple. Having experienced the most devastating change in my life personally two years prior, I felt like finally people would begin to understand what it is like to have your world turned upside down and feeling very little control over it.
When my son died in 2018 I literally could not bring myself to go to church for four months. This had nothing to do with my beliefs. I actually clung to my faith as my life raft because the hope of heaven was the only thing sustaining me at that point. But it was just too hard to go to church where most people were so focused on God giving them a good life in the here and now. I heard very few sermons about suffering or injustice or pain. Finally, everyone was going to share a form of suffering together and have to work through the associated theological and existential issues.
Now I hear sermons all the time about these issues. I do think this is a welcome and necessary corrective to the American church. For those who have ears to hear, I think this has been a time of epiphany. While a number of people have chosen blame, hatred and misunderstanding there are also plenty of others for whom this has been a revelation about and compassion for the suffering of others. We are being called to move away from self-protection and towards being the hands of Christ to the world.
I have recently been thinking of Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God which proved an extremely helpful read for me back in 1995 right before we left for Kazakhstan. His basic premise is that you should always be looking for what God is doing and then joining Him in it. We are not to imitate others or even to imitate ourselves from the past. Rather we are to look to see what God is doing in the here and now. We all as believers have the Spirit of God. As we listen to one another and to Him we will get a clearer picture of what He is leading us into. I literally have no idea what will happen in 2022 or during the rest of this decade or the rest of my life. But I do know that I am not to be like Lot’s wife, looking over my shoulder and thinking somehow I can get back to 2020. I don’t even want to go back there. I want to move forward with renewed compassion and purpose.
Here’s what I do know. I know that I am to listen. I know that I am to act in love. I know that I can rest in God in the midst of crazy, challenging times. I know that there is hope. And I know God is doing a new thing. I know that He is writing a story that is so much bigger than any of us will ever understand at least in this lifetime. I take comfort in these words written more than 600 years ago:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
― Julian of Norwich
Thanks for this, Kim. I couldn’t agree with you more about the needed corrective in the American church. It reminded me of a quote I shared on a recent Lenten podcast that I host (called “Needed Time “).
“Several years ago, the New York Times writer Ross Douthat wrote a column entitled, “The Misery Filter.” He was citing the research of psychologists, and reflected on the phenomenon that we (in this culture) tend to filter out the misery around us. We ignore or avoid everything that presents misery–from the rise in opioid addictions to the sullen teenager in our house; until, that is, they become an all-out crisis. Douthat noted: “In America, we have plenty of education for success, but no education for suffering. There is instead the filter, the well-meaning deception, that teaches neither religious hope nor stoicism; instead, when suffering arrives, it encourages group hysteria, private shame and a growing contagion of despair.”
Dr. Walter Brueggemann addresses that reality when he calls the church to be “the place in town that refuses to participate in the ‘laugh now’ movement–one of buoyancy, prosperity, and sureness, to become (instead) a venue for processing loss and acknowledging grief.” If there’s any place at all in our culture where we ought to be able to learn to suffer and grieve, Brueggemann argues, the church should be it. Grieving is part of the Christian life. Unlike the Stoics and others who teach detachment as an antidote for suffering, the Christian call is to follow Jesus who came and suffered with us, who lived in solidarity with the last, the lost, the least and the lonely…”
Thank you, Pastor Will. I appreciate the quote you sent and I appreciate you!