As I write this, let me confess, I’m not in the highest of spirits. Today, April 30, was to have been the end of “stay at home.” We are “bending the curve,” which means fewer people will die and our vulnerable health care system will be protected. It also means the epidemic will take longer to peak and diminish. As the sunshine grows stronger, the days longer, and the air warmer, I become eager to get outside, to drink coffee at a sidewalk cafe or to bike down the Lakefront Trail. I yearn to be out from under the darker clouds of suffering that currently overshadow our lives — illness, death, and economic stress and dislocation. I find myself tempted to discouragement, many days.
Some of this feels oddly familiar to me. In February of 2018, I suffered a serious leg injury that required my knee to be completely immobilized for nearly three months. At first, of course, there was shock. Then there was simply the chore of having to learn to do everything anew. Everything posed a new challenge: walker walking, getting in and out of cars (I had to sit across the back seat), standing up from a chair, putting on my shoes, and managing to preach a sermon from a seated position. I had new dependencies, living as a guest of kind family and friends for a number of weeks because I couldn’t fully care for myself. It took me several weeks after my surgery to understand how to navigate everything. But slowly I did.
The most discouraging part, however, came next. There was a considerable gap of six or eight weeks between when I had “mastered” the skills of life this way and when I got to start bending my knee again. I learned how to cope faster than I healed. So after the problem solving and the period of adjustment, I had to settle into a time of just simply getting by. This required a different kind of spiritual stamina. It required discernment about what I could still do and what I could not. It required patience for the baby steps of progress. I had great support from family and friends. I had meaningful work (although scaled back) and good diversions. But still, it was hard not to get discouraged from the healing taking so long.
We have done a good job of adapting to ministry in a time of quarantine. We are settling into our new habits and procedures. We are adjusting to the “new normal for now.” So it seems unfair that our successful adjustment isn’t rewarded by a release from these conditions. And yet, it will be another month or six weeks, it seems, before we will begin to experience a meaningful ease to these restrictions.
Now we have to settle in for the long haul. Healing is happening, as our public health officials and health care providers slowly nurse our cities back to health. As we settle in, I’m remembering some of the lessons I learned two years ago.
In a version of the Serenity Prayer, I’m trying to find the motivation to do what I can do, the grace to let go of what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I’m paying extra attention to the daily rituals of self-care in spirit, mind, and body: prayer, exercise, time for hobbies and diversions, and adequate sleep.
I’m making extra time for virtual relationships with my family and friends. We’re spending MORE time together now than is usual.
Finally, I’m making extra time for prayer, meditation, study of scripture, staying centered on the Holy One who will sustain us all through this.
The only remedy we have for this epidemic is the passage of time. In the coming weeks, we will focus more on preparing for what comes after “Stay at Home.” We will explore what it means to re-open our churches safely and joyously. A Zoom Conference Call on the topic of Reopening our Facilities is scheduled for May 12 at 2:00 pm.
Further, in the weeks and months that follow we will all be taking stock of what we have experienced and what we have learned. How is ministry different now? How is church community evolving? What has been revealed about our failures to care for the least of these our brothers and sisters? And what is truly the meaning of a just and thriving society?
After my surgeon allowed me to begin to bend my knee a little, I was only half-way home. It took another three months of gradually lessening my restrictions, physical therapy, and continued healing before I could return to normal life. It will be like that for us too. It will take time over a period of gradual easing for us to get back to something that looks more normal. And it will take work. We will have a great deal to do after quarantine to build up our churches and our society into the BETTER New Normal.
But for now, this is wisdom: Take heart. Do what you can. Take care of yourselves and be healthy and safe. And stay centered on the one who can do exceedingly more than anything we can imagine, under whose wings we are sheltered like baby chicks, and in whose paths we are led.
Rev David Gregg