Most of us are at home now, staring at empty calendars. No coffee dates, no work, no gatherings. Even before the governor’s order to shelter in place, everything in my world got canceled. Choir rehearsals were put on hold, church leaders decided not to have us meet for worship, restaurants began closing. Most painfully, the library is closed. Not sure how I’ll survive that one. The pregnancy center/medical clinic where I volunteer once a week, meeting clients in the parenting program, instructed volunteers over the age of 65 to stay home, to not enter the clinic. There’s a meme going around Facebook that says, “When you’re worried about the elderly, and realize you ARE the elderly.”
We do need humor to help us get through this. The TP jokes are endless and highly entertaining. And I find other things about this amusing. Like my mother’s assisted living facility having closed the dining room (delivering meals to the door of her apartment), but still allowing residents to walk the halls and visit with one other, maintaining a six-foot distance. I have an image of hard-of-hearing people leaning on their walkers, yelling at each other.
But I have to confess to struggling with the nothingness of social distancing and sheltering in place. The first couple of days I welcomed the opportunity to relax after the general craziness I’d experienced in previous weeks. I slept in, and then lounged around in my pajamas until almost noon. It was wonderfully decadent, but it quickly lost its charm. Even though I’m by no means an extrovert, erasing all people from my life has been painful. And I’ve always known that I don’t do well without structure. The need to accomplish something worthwhile has overcome the fleeting joy of having nothing to do.
There’s no end in sight, either. The coronavirus situation changes daily, if not hourly, so all plans are on hold indefinitely. We’re watching an economy in free fall, the maddening politicizing of a disaster, major event celebrations being canceled, without a clear road map to deal with it. We’re all in this together, but we’re not exactly sure what “this” is, or where it’s going. God made us for work and productivity and community, but that’s all vanished for now. We understandably feel unbalanced and a little scared.
I’m not as pessimistic or as hopeless as I sound. But I’ve noticed that a lot of Christian social media is not giving space for acknowledging grief for what is lost, what we may or may not get back, or thinking about how some things may be permanently altered. It’s as if we have to prove our spirituality by constantly being upbeat. Our Christian culture isn’t good at lamenting. But we have to lament before we can move on. We have to acknowledge the worry, fear, and panic that we aren’t “supposed” to feel because we’re Christians. But most of us are feeling them anyway, to some degree.
As I’ve read my daily Psalm this past week, I’ve been struck with the assertion that God is the source of everything, both seen and unseen, and that without him we are empty and helpless. Even when the Psalmist is confused about God, or mad at God, or in absolute despair, it always comes around to acknowledging the power of God.
Psalm 30 is an example: You need to read the whole thing, but in vs. 6 he confesses that when everything was going swimmingly, he was sure he would never be shaken. What arrogance, forgetting where his security actually came from. The second half of vs. 6 through vs. 7 gives a picture of a person in deep trouble, false security removed, crying out to God and begging for mercy. In vs. 8 he’s back to joy and dancing, with a renewed awareness of exactly who’s in charge of his restoration. Hint – it’s not him. Or go backward, to Psalm 28. Very simply, “The Lord is the strength of his people.”
See, I don’t have to be strong. I can feel weak and helpless, because I am weak and helpless. My strength is completely derived from the Lord. What a relief.
If you’re looking for a list of ten things to do while sheltering in place, you won’t find them here. There are lists everywhere you look, and they’re mostly good. But I think the first thing, before I work my way through a list of advice, is to realize who God is, and who I am. To take this opportunity to draw closer to him, to allow him to address the things in me that are being exposed during this time of upheaval. And to choose to believe, day by day, that he’s got this.
I’m reminded of the refrain from a gospel song I heard a lot in my childhood, not one of my favorites back then, when I knew everything and could do anything. I think I finally get it. Imagine it sung in a slightly country western twang, with guitar accompaniment:
“Many things about tomorrow (and today – parentheses mine)
I don’t seem to understand.
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.”
The Psalmist would say “Amen.”