Written by Bridget Barnard
Recently I have been confronted by my conflicting attempts to trust in God’s loving faithfulness while striving to exert control over this ‘nonsense-of-a-pandemic’ year ‘Yes I trust God …. but how do I get things done now?!
We expect to have (some) control of our lives, to make good choices and be rewarded by a sense of satisfaction and success. This is true even in our faith journey. I practice good rhythms and routines and I should become more spiritually mature – right?
But what happens when our expectations are not meet and we are thwarted? When we fail or are disappointed? What happens when our security props are kicked out from under us by something uncontrollable – like lock down. What happens when our regular strategies for managing our lives are confronted by the unexpected and no longer work?
As I reflected on my response to this year, these are the things that have emerged in the tussle between trust and control.
We don’t have to pretend it’s all good, all the time. There is a strong tradition of lament, both personal and communal in our biblical story. Our faith is an honest faith – life is hard, disappointing, frustrating, boring, scary and unfair (think of Joseph, Ruth and Job!). Articulating these things don’t make them go away, but they do allow for a shared experience. It’s not just me – other people are experiencing similar things (even if it’s not exactly the same). We can carry each other in this, grieve, complain and love each other in this. We don’t need to justify, explain or reason our way out of a difficult season – it just is. It’s ok to run to God sobbing (shrugging or yelling) “What is this? Why is this so hard?!”
Like a tired, upset child who just needs to be held for a while, we forget how much we need God’s ‘nearness’ to calm our mind and body. To ‘lean in’ to God and be held close, even while we’re complaining until eventually, we stop and are still. This has been a testing year and many of us are so tired (and quite grumpy). The discipline of Sabbath encourages us to rest in the presence of God and intentionally create space for being settled. Depending on how you are wired to best connect with God, there are so many ways to do this – it’s not prescriptive, but it is intentional, a way to re-orientate your mind, body and spirit to God.
Sometimes it feels counter-intuitive to stop, there’s too much to do. It’s ok, you are not that important. Let it go. You will be better and do better things when you are rest-full. It might even feel like we don’t need this discipline as we’ve been stuck at home for weeks – that is not Sabbath (and it was NOT restful thanks very much). A Sabbath will revive you, like one of my wilting pot plants after I remember to water it. Also, I’ve found to truly rest well, I can’t be on or constantly checking a device. In our screen dominated world, time to disconnect and re-learn other ways to relax is crucial to mind, body and spirit.
At this nearly-but not-yet stage of the year, it’s tempting to either give up and wait it out until a return to normality (yeah 2021!) or try and salvage this non-year by leaping into frenetic activity. Neither are wise options. We are living in a new reality, the pandemic is not over, and this uncertainty may be our new normal (if that’s still too much to contemplate, re-read Lament). Transitions often prompt a reassessment of priorities so now’s a good time to pause, take a deep breath and consider a seasonal audit. What should we keep that will be life-giving for the season ahead? What needs to be let go and laid down? What were survival-mode habits that it’s time to relinquish? What could be a new way of doing and being? Energy is still a little low on the ground, it’s the dreary lag before the re-perk of spring after all, so ‘less is (often) more’. Just clearing the space for hopeful possibilities to take root might be your best strategy at the moment.
Remember to give thanks
The Psalms, those raw human accounts of fear, anxiety, anger, complaint, sorrow and despair, nearly always finish with praise and hope. When we pause to give thanks, it clears our blurry vision and refocuses our hearts and minds on God’s faithfulness and goodness. Choosing to express gratitude is an act of resistance and defiance against despair. Remember the truth – there is still much that is beautiful and hopeful in our lives and in our world, even if it’s momentarily obscured from view. Recently, against my staunch and entirely reasonable refusal for years, we got a puppy. This one moment of weakness has completely changed our family dynamic – for the better. This puppy is idiotic, gleeful, hilarious and gives unconditional affection. When we are tired, frustrated, sad or bored – this fluffy creature, willingly snuggles close and brings calm and joy. I find myself giving thanks to God every day for the unexpected gift (and he was literally an un-asked for gift!) of a small silly dog. So, look for the small mercies, the unexpected gifts, the taken for granted blessings – and remember to give thanks.