And then the world you know rips the rug out from under you and is no longer the world you know.
We are stuck at home, the calendar wiped clean, cancellations prevalent, friends unseen, momentum gone.
I’ve been here before.
Two years ago, when the rug was ripped out from under me the last time, and I found myself stuck at home for months, too high-risk and unwell to be up and out, and suddenly the calendar was cleared and everything canceled and isolation of house-arrest crept in.
This current pandemic is bringing panic and plaguing me with memories of that season.
That last time, when I also couldn’t see the end in sight, and every time I thought it was getting nearer, new information pushed it even farther into the future. That terrifying feeling of wondering if it will ever end, and if things will ever be normal again.
And it all happened at the same time of year. It was in March, those two years ago, that the world first began to unravel and life shut down and life passed away in my body and spring seemed lost.
Spring seems lost.
Here we are, at the most hope-filled time of year, when spring is blooming and winter fading and light lingering and life coming. It feels, as it felt those two years ago, like a cruel poisonous timing. How can we lose this? How can we make it through the long winter and taste the first sensations of spring’s relief only to be greeted by house-bound cages and community calamity and social distance?
Can we go from winter to winter?
“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth,” Psalm 121:1
I can’t look anywhere else and see hope, and I can’t look anywhere else and guarantee help. Lord God, we can only look to You and still find spring.
There are things two years ago that are so similar to now: the stuck-at-home, plans disappeared, the worry for my mother-in-law’s health. There are things that are easier this time: my physical wellness and ability to play with my kids and clean and cook are definitely gifts I am treasuring. But there are things that are new and worse: the world-wide extent of this pandemic, the many friends and family at risk of greatly suffering in various ways because of this, and the lack of community in my home. During that storm in 2018, one of the sweetest gifts was the way God fortified for me a community during it. My house almost always had others in it, bringing meals and cleaning and sitting with me and praying together.
This time the new protection is separation.
I keep finding myself in a place of deep grief, mourning this claustrophobic condition, reeling at the reminders of my limits, gasping at the gaping wounds of this world.
Are you finding yourself like me in this, fighting panic and heartache? The current contains me, the future frightens me, and I know I am not alone in this.
I’ve been here before, this is familiar in so many ways, but so are five truths from that last time that bring me courage again for this new season. Hopefully these can encourage you too:
1- God’s plans cannot be thwarted. One of the most unnerving things is to watch your schedule disappear. The calendar blank, as all your previous plans are canceled. Erased. Deleted. Scratched out. This is an overwhelming experience, I know. I really know. One of the lingering PTSD effects of that season for me was the inability to plan and commit to anything afterwards. I could not grasp the future with any tangibility and the word “maybe” became my mantra. But it is also a priceless lesson in your humanity. James 4:13-15 says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” And also Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” The end of those last two verses is the key to comfort. Yes, our plans are unstable, easily vanished. But God, God’s plans never, ever change. They cannot be wiped out, erased, canceled, deleted. His plans are never under the authority and control of another. His plans always happen. This is a mind-blowing comfort. And don’t miss the specific hope this gives for you: “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:6). He is working now, though we can’t see it and don’t understand it. God will do what God does.
2- You are weak but God is Almighty. One of the aspects of this pandemic is the way it utterly shakes our confidence in ourselves. We realize the complete lack of control we have over our circumstances. We realize the lack of power we have over our health, finances, daily routines, etc. Our weakness stares us down and fractures our ground. But when we embrace our weakness and agree with it is when we can find true freedom. Yes, I am weak, and recognizing that instead of fighting it or hiding from it is freeing because the truth will set you free. And the truth is we are weak. But God, God is strong! We don’t have to fear because our hope is not in our ability but in God’s. Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Yes, our bodies may (and will!) fail, but God! He is our strength and portion, so we can have peace and find hope. “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Boast in our weakness? That seems so strange and counter-cultural and yet again, the truth sets us free! It is by admitting and recognizing our weakness that God’s strength shines and His power is perfected. The One Who holds all power holds you. Look to God, the Almighty and find courage!
3- Nothing can separate you from God. This is something I hope to blog more on in the future, but when we suffer one of the most profound truths is that we are never alone. God is always, always with us and we cannot be separated from Him (Deuteronomy 31:6, Romans 8:38-39, Psalm 139:1-12). This is especially profound right now, when separation is the antidote and we are missing one another. Quarantine can be crushing and isolation makes one ill in its own way. But we cannot be kept from God, and we cannot be quarantined from His love. During this time of loneliness, remember that you are never truly alone. God is with you. Seek Him during this time. Read Romans 8 over and over again bathing your soul in the presence of your Lord! It is not possible for you to be kept from Him. Worship. Be still. And know that He is God. And He is with you!
4- There is a unique good and beauty here. Gratitude is a healing gift, and as much as you can find things to be thankful for now, do it. Make a physical list. Make pointed prayers of praise. It’s amazing the way God interjects His beauty into the most dark of circumstances. Baltimore right now is blooming spring, and in the worst of neighborhoods and the most broken of streets, trees and bushes fill with flowers. God’s beauty is defiant to the dark. His hope pushes through and reminds us of Him. Where can you find beauty now? What specific gift is there in this season? Some you may not be able to see now or fully feel; but isn’t it amazing how later on you can look back at hard times and see good that you couldn’t see when in it? There is something beautiful now, here, for you. Force yourself to give thanks as much as you can. For example, while my heart aches that this is happening at springtime, I also give thanks that it is springtime. I’m so glad we can go in the yard and get some vitamin D and fresh air! I’m so thankful for the blossoming hope reminders! Give thanks and wait on the Lord. He works all things for His children’s good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
5- There is another side. Suffering can feel like a never-ending season of chaos. I remember in 2018 getting to the point where I felt stuck in a continual stream of bad news and hard, and I felt like it would never end. I didn’t even speak these words, but a friend knew. On another morning of rushing to an ER, she came to watch my kids and greeted my sobbing self with these words: “You feel like it will never end. But it will. It will end.” Friends, this will end. One day the coronavirus will be history and we will be back together. We know this is true because of our view of eternity. Our hope is not bound to this earth-side experience. Never forget that suffering is finite and the promises of God are unchanged. He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5) and He won’t leave us here. I remember laying in the hospital a few months into our storm season, and thinking to myself, “It’s too far gone, this is too far unraveled. We can’t come back from this.” And immediately God firmly spoke to my heart, “I made you from an egg. And you think I can’t fix this?” It was a needed reproof. Certainly the God Who created me could heal me and restore. And I’m here to tell you He did. No, not everything lost in that season is replaced and fixed. Far, far from it. But what He did get us through and bring back is amazing and a work of His hand. During these struggling times, look ahead with hope. Can you imagine our first church services back together? The first time we can embrace again? The first time we can grocery shop like normal again? The first reunions and normalcy? We see glimpses of God’s resurrection all over this world, the pattern of down but back up. We will see this here too. It’s hard to imagine Easter so different this year; but maybe God’s resurrecting work will be seen in a whole new way. God’s restoring work will be evident. Look ahead with hope to what God will fix on this earth, and a renewed joy at the beauty in the perfection we will enjoy in the New Earth! It is a critical time to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things,” (Colossians 3:2).
Dear ones, I hope these truths bring you encouragement and perspective from our great Father today. He will not waste any of this trying time.
“I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
(All Scripture quotations taken from the NIV)