28 Jul “How long, O Lord, how long?”
July 27, 2020
“How long, O Lord, how long?”
In one way or another, utilizing a variety of words and expressions, this is the sentiment I’ve heard voiced over and over again in the past couple of weeks. Some have said it with resignation, others with frustration, still others with sadness or anger or weariness. And not a few of us are experiencing these emotions in all kinds of unexpected, dizzying combinations.
As I mentioned last week, it has become abundantly clear that the short (and highly unsatisfying) answer is “later rather than sooner.” Perhaps you heard the news that earlier this month, Andy Stanley, pastor of the megachurch North Point Ministries which includes six campuses and 40,000 members in the Atlanta area, announced that North Point has suspended all in-person worship for the remainder of 2020. They had planned to reopen August 9, but the escalating virus numbers in the metropolitan Atlanta region led them to conclude that they could not ensure their members’ safety. And thus, their worship will remain online until sometime in 2021.
Stanley made an observation that I found illuminating. He said people crave certainty which as church leaders, we absolutely cannot give in the midst of a global pandemic. The next best thing to certainty, he said, is clarity. And by canceling their on-campus services now, the church is offering clarity about what North Point’s members can expect from their church over the next several months.
I get it. I really do. And with tens of thousands of lives at stake, this was the right decision and the right timing for their church. If the current medical trends and predictions hold true, and the autumn and winter months are even worse than what we’ve experienced to this point with the coronavirus, we may all end up in the same place as North Point, even if we arrive there one month at a time instead of all at once. I don’t know yet. I have neither certainty nor clarity.
What I do have is a word. As many of you know, I often have a specific word that gives some direction or focus to how I approach the year in front of me. One year my word was “simplicity.” Another year it was “grace.” A couple of weeks ago, after several days of praying and journaling, a new word, a word for the rest of 2020 came to me. And the word is “yield.”
Now, I need to be honest. I do not like this word. In fact, we are not getting along very well at the moment. But I know where the problem lies, and hint, hint: it’s not the word’s fault. With both certainty and clarity, I know that God is inviting me to yield to this year of pandemic, to receive both the challenges and the opportunities it holds, to appreciate the change of rhythm and routine, to find the gifts hidden in the canceled plans. I am being invited to look for new ways to experience community, connect to people, and be “the church.” I am being offered the chance to let go of old patterns and habits and to establish new ones instead. Perhaps most of all, I am being invited to live into faith one day at a time, not looking behind, but not looking too far ahead, either.
In my head all of this makes perfect sense to me, and I want to yield and be peaceful and content about the myriad things, big and small, that are out of my hands. But it doesn’t feel good. It feels bad to cancel big life events like graduations and trips and wedding parties. It is sad to be separated from family and friends for several months that could stretch into a year or more. It is heart-wrenching to be physically distant from people who are ill or grieving. I miss my community worshiping and singing together.
Yet, focusing on what we have lost will not lead us to serenity. That only comes through surrendering which with time, patience, perseverance, and prayer, can lead us to acceptance. It is not work for the faint of heart. But it is work in which God give us the Spirit to aid us as we yield, let go, and trust.
Yours for the Kingdom,