Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Those of you who have been tuning in recently know that we have spent the past month and a half thinking about Our New Normal and how the ways we have started coping with a global pandemic can also be a part of how we practice and live out our faith. Wearing a mask, washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and using new technologies to stay connected, are all also ways we can follow Jesus. We have worked hard and found ways to keep moving forward even though times are hard.
But I wouldn’t truly be doing justice to how much we are all going through right now if I didn’t address this morning’s topic too– the mental and spiritual load of uncertainty and grief.
The grief of so much loss and the total uncertainty of what the future holds is a heavy burden to carry around with us all the time. Early on, the grief over cancelled plans and missing others was at times overwhelming. As time’s gone on, I think we’ve all grown accustomed to things being cancelled or moved to online. We’re adjusting but the general loss of the way things were, still lingers. Our COVID numbers are worse than ever, and it looks like this fall and winter isn’t going to get much better.
The hardest part of it all for me is the total lack of ability to plan. I’m a planner. I spend loads of mental time thinking about and envisioning the future. Now that I am your pastor I am longing to plan fun ways to celebrate Advent together, and community events, and congregational gatherings…even just a plan for when we can get back to worshipping in our building would be great, but right now all that seems nearly impossible to do. The uncertainty of what even tomorrow will bring is overwhelming.
I read an article recently by Tara Haelle, a science journalist, who said, “While the phrase “adjusting to the new normal” has been repeated endlessly since March, it’s easier said than done. How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the “new normal” is indefinite uncertainty?”
It also quoted Dr. Ann Masten, a psychologist & professor of child development at the University of Minnesota. She said, “This is an unprecedented disaster for most of us and has a profound impact on our daily lives.”
But it’s different from a hurricane or tornado where you can look outside and see the damage. The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with.
It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout. Research on disaster and trauma focuses primarily on what’s helpful for people during the recovery period, but we’re not close to recovery yet. We are in a prolonged state of uncertainty, trauma, and grief.
Our new normal is always feeling a little off balance, like trying to stand in a boat on rough seas, and not knowing when the storm will pass.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find the scriptures telling me not to worry to be all that helpful. I know rationally there’s nothing I can do to change this and worrying about tomorrow or next week or next year isn’t going to help anything, I know that. …but it sure is hard not to. This whole not being able to envision anything about what the future might look like is a new way of trust that I don’t have much experience with yet.
Early on during quarantine I read a devotional on the bible verse from Matthew that I read earlier by Rev. Molly Baskette. She reflected saying,
“Today’s trouble is enough for today. Jesus, you got that right. You know what the trouble is: a novel coronavirus that has an alarming fraction of the global population ill or dead, and the rest of us hurtling toward lockdown.
Are we allowed to worry now?
Are we allowed to stock up on canned soup and toilet paper and ice cream? How exactly will God provide these things if we don’t take responsibility for getting them ourselves?
We are at the moment when we know everything is going to change, but we don’t yet know how—and that is the hardest part. We know people we love will be taken from us, but we don’t know who. We know it will threaten our retirement funds, our that it will put some people who are already at the edge, economically and emotionally, over it. We ask God the ultimate question, “What if it changes everything?” And God answers, “What if it doesn’t?”
Because some things need changing. Good things can be caught from this pandemic, as well as bad. Already, you are calling friends you haven’t talked to in ages or checking in with your mother every day. You are pulling out the watercolors, reading novels again, watching documentaries with your fur person, cuddling your kids.
The pandemic is revealing, once again, what really matters, and what the good gifts of life are that don’t arrive by two-day shipping. A particle one- 900th thousand times the width of a single human hair has done what we were not able to do by ourselves: stop us in our tracks, personally and communally.
God didn’t send this disaster, but God will for darn sure use it.”
I found this quote to be so true in my own life. Over the past 6 months I’ve been reading more and I’ve picked up some new skills like embroidery. Kelsee and I are cooking and eating every meal together, and that never happened before this pandemic isolated us in our home. We have a new pet, and he is such a light in this hard time.
So I invite you to think of the little gifts that this time has brought you.
Perhaps, God can use the uncertainty of life right now to help us grow. This time may be one of the greatest tests of our faith. We all know things are not going to be the same, maybe ever. In some ways that might be good. But the uncertainty, the unknowing of what life is going to be like is hard and exhausting. And we can’t really begin to process it all while we’re still in the midst of crisis. Taking it one day or moment at a time is easier said than done.
So don’t get down on yourself if you feel down some days. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. Jesus tells us to try not to worry but he never says we can’t lament. In fact the bible is full of laments. And perhaps in learning to lament and trust God with our laments we will learn to find hope again in these dire circumstances.
I recently heard a sermon from Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, director of Mt. Olivet Conference and Retreat Center in Farmington, MN. She said,
“Deborah Hunsinger, a dear friend & sem prof of mine from years ago, wrote in her book on prayer that lament means directing one’s anguish toward God. In this sense, lament is courageous. It’s faith’s alternative to despair. It is honest, gut-wrenching, and vulnerable. It’s a complaint in the very presence of God that paradoxically buoys us up in hope.
Though it might not sound like it, lament is full of hope. Every lament represents a refusal to let go of our deepest longings, even when desperate and overwhelmed.
She continues on, “When healing fails, lament is the hopelessness that refuses to give up hope. When injustice prevails, lament is the protest that digs in for the long haul. When humiliation abounds, lament is the self-respect that cries out to a hidden God, ‘How long, O Lord?’” Lament flows from a reservoir of trust in God’s love, and it keeps hope alive.”
As we face perhaps the most uncertain future we’ve ever faced let us be brave enough to lament, to direct our anguish and fear and worry to God. Let’s allow our laments to turn us back to God’s all-encompassing love where we will hear again the promise from the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”