Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been significantly burdened by the “forced isolation.” So many areas of my life have been flipped upside down. I’m used to being in front of a computer only twice a week. Now it’s daily. I’m used to getting to have several interactions a day with others outside of my family. Now I have to get on the phone or Zoom just to hear someone I’m familiar with (and I’m so bad at it). I’m used to being able to gather with you all each week, but now…
Life as we know it has been flipped upside down and who knows how long we’ll be in this state of “forced isolation.” One of the weightier burdens for me is how my work has been affected. I’ve completely lost the opportunity to engage with the high school students face to face. I’m used to being able to look them in the eye and communicate the love of Jesus in ways personalized to their story.
Some of these kids are facing very difficult things like parents losing jobs, not having enough food to eat, the death of loved ones, possible violence in the home, all the while grieving the loss of “normal school.” Being confined to connect with them through Instagram and Zoom meetings just feels overwhelming and incredibly insufficient. I miss seeing each of them and this circumstance we’re in is incredibly disappointing. I’m grieved, almost to the point of giving up.
All of us are dealing with loss in some form or fashion. Some of you are on the verge of losing your businesses or jobs, or have already lost your job. Some of you are trying to figure out where you’re going to get money to pay next month’s bills. Some of you have family members that are sick or have died and you’re heartbroken because you can’t help in the same ways you would have before the COVID-19 outbreak. There is fear that is gripping all of our hearts to some degree for different reasons.
I think in times like these, when we are faced with our mortality and are confronted with our inability to control what happens in our lives, the tendency is to silence the turmoil erupting in our souls. We don’t listen to it. We don’t acknowledge the pain, the anxiety, the anger, the fear, the suffering. We’re people of faith. We know the end, so why is our soul so troubled?
It is not a sin to be discouraged. To feel overwhelmed. To be angry even. To have fear that is so great that it feels like it’s going to consume you. Jesus felt all of this in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus invites us to enter into the turmoil of our souls and promises to be with us in it.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. 8 Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. 9 Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.1 Peter 5:6—11
10 The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. 11 To him be dominion forever. Amen.
Peter, the lead Apostle of the Church, was writing these words to encourage our brothers and sisters whose world had been flipped upside down. They were driven into hiding because Nero was burning Christians alive for their faith in Jesus. They were wrestling with some of the same emotions we’re wrestling with today. They were afraid, they lost homes, income streams, family members, and friends. The certainties they once had were stripped away as Nero declared war on Christ-followers. They were doing all the right things and trusting that God was in control, but why was all this hard stuff happening to them? Why is Jesus allowing this? Why isn’t Jesus coming back now and enacting justice on their persecutors?
In a time like we find ourselves in, Peter encourages the church to be humble. Don’t exalt yourself to the position of God and declare judgment on how things should be, or how they are going to be. Embrace what our mighty God is allowing, but at the same time trust that he cares for you.
Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but we have an adversary who wants to destroy our faith. He is going to use our suffering and try to lure us away from our trust in Jesus. Arm yourself with truth so that you can stand firm. Arm yourself with truth so that you can help others stand firm. We need to resist him together.
In order to do this, we need to be honest about the inner turmoil in our souls and share with one another our doubts and struggles. Allow for your brothers and sisters in the faith to care for you during this time. Be weak, be vulnerable. Jesus promised to be with us and we’ll find the power that raised Jesus from the dead, to be effective in our own life.
Jesus cares for you! He cares for me! He cares for us all! He cares for us so much that He gave up his life so that we would know there is nothing that could keep us from him, not even death. Peter’s words in this time of suffering for the church are fuel in my disappointment; they give life in my hardship and they give hope in a time of sadness.
I’ve experienced a range of different emotions during this “shelter in place” season, on both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes I have great gladness, and other times I am really discouraged. Each day is different, but the range stays consistent. To be honest, it’s not uncommon for me to experience feelings on both ends of the spectrum on the same day.
I’m a self-declared professional suppressor. For most of my life, I really hadn’t allowed myself to engage emotionally with the stuff I’d experience. It could be a moment calling for great celebration, like winning a championship, and the most you’d get out of me is a fist pump. Or on the other end, one of my friends got murdered and I didn’t even shed a tear. Stuff would happen and yet I never seemed to have an appropriate emotional response. I just thought I was blessed to not experience the depths of the harder emotions that should accompany the difficult circumstances. As a result, I didn’t get to experience deep friendships with others because that kind of connection requires emotional vulnerability.
If you find yourself starved of peace, you won’t find it by suppressing your fears, anxieties, anger, sadness, loneliness, or any other emotions you may be experiencing. But you’ll only find peace through acknowledging your weaknesses. If you want peace, all you have to do is acknowledge with Jesus how you’re struggling and that you want the peace he gives. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as he was preparing them for his departure back to the Father.
“The peace I give is a gift the world cannot give, so don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27
Though Jesus was leaving them physically, he promised them (and us as well) that if they love him and keep his word that he and the Father would come and make their home with him. The peace that is available to us is the very presence of God that comes to those who believe and act on his word.
Some of His words that have been providing me peace in this season come from Lamentations 3:21-27a. “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” In a season of uncertainty, where so much feels so out of sync, all we have is the conviction that He is a good Father who cares for His children. If you can identify what’s burdening you, there is a promise that, if believed, will bring peace. What promise(s) can you put your trust in during this season?
Have you ever wanted the approval from someone that just wouldn’t give it to you? For some of us, this may be a parent. For others, it could have been a coach or teacher. Maybe even a friend or sibling. A boss. Their relentless critique of you consumed or consumes your mind and you find yourself in one of these two postures. You’re either so afraid of their disapproval you find yourself filled with anxiety when they are around you and you try to behave in ways you think they’d prefer, or you’ve calloused your heart and cut yourself off from them emotionally.
If that experience is unfamiliar to you, then perhaps you’ve experienced the crushing blows of your own thoughts. “I’m so fat, I’ll never lose all this weight.” “What’s wrong with me?” “I don’t work hard enough and I’ll never amount to anything.” I know the feeling all too well. In fact, I believe we all do, to some degree. After all, if we didn’t care about the approval of others, wouldn’t we experience peace all the time?
I’ve experienced the empty “peace” that comes from the approval of others. The pats on the back. The praise of a job well done. They’re gratifying, yet I’ve experienced them as incredibly insufficient in being able to satisfy my need for unconditional approval. The kind of approval that affirms who I am, as opposed to what I do. But when we can BELIEVE THROUGH JESUS that God finds us to be utterly delightful, we can receive from God a joy and peace that is more than sufficient.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Jesus died carrying all of our brokenness, yet he came back to life and is reigning as King. Do you need hope today? He is able and willing to provide it for all that will place their trust in the affirming love he has for us, communicated on the cross.
Have you ever had someone you love, hurt you? It leads to some of the most uncomfortable emotions. A friend that betrays your trust. A relationship that doesn’t go the way you wanted. A spouse who cheats on you. A family member that takes advantage of you. All of these are very terrible experiences and can produce immense pain.
When the pain is so excruciating that it feels unbearable, the thought of forgiveness can just feel downright foolish. We live in a time of “cancel culture.” It’s a culture that promotes the severing of relationships that don’t seem to benefit us. We’ve learned to “cancel” those who hurt and disappoint us, feeling justified in withholding good. After all, how else will we keep people from hurting us again?
I want to acknowledge that the pain of betrayal and unfaithfulness is very real and to be sure there are certainly cases where distance is necessary. However, to cancel someone or refuse to forgive is not just harmful to us individually, but also corporately. Jesus commanded us to always forgive and even gave special emphasis on forgiving enemies, not just those who add value to our lives.
Forgiveness frees us from the burden of needing something to happen that we can’t control. Of course, we don’t just put ourselves in harm’s way and entrust ourselves to someone who hasn’t shown themselves to be faithful. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to forget and act like nothing ever happened. However, forgiveness gives us the freedom we need to enjoy life with God.
“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
Jesus forgave us at the cost of his life and he didn’t “cancel” anyone. With tears in his eyes, he will bring justice on all who have rejected his offer of forgiveness. But for us who have received it, we were enemies who become his friends. Does anyone come to mind that you may be able to move toward during this “shelter in place” season? Is there anyone you’ve indirectly or intentionally “canceled” that you could call today?