I wonder if the same three words haunt you, too.
Looks like you won’t be going back to school, kids. (For how long?)
Guess I’ll be working from home beginning Monday. (For how long?)
I found eggs! This should last us a while. (For how long?)
I’m doing ok. I can handle this. (For how long?)
Truth is, the individual days themselves haven’t seemed so bad. I’m wholly aware of how fortunate I am to be able to say that. I married a good guy, and I enjoy his company. For the most part, I think he enjoys mine. My kids are home and I like them an awful lot, too. In between Zoom meetings and distance learning and conference calls, we’ve finished a puzzle together. We take long daily walks. We smile and wave at strangers and they smile and wave back. We’re watching The Great British Baking Show from start to finish. We have plenty of food. (Ok, it’s mostly a giant stack of tortillas, but we have food.)
It’s the “for how long?” refrain that plants a pit in my stomach. How long before I can walk into my parents’ house again without fear of making them sick? How long before I can see my sister? How long before I can pick up my phone and not feel dreadfully compelled to consult an exponentially increasing line graph?
I generally consider challenging things “endurable” so long as they have a set finish line.
Holding my breath during a mammogram x-ray.
Elementary school concerts.
But when “how long?” is met with silence, or confusion, or a brutally honest “no one really knows,” a challenge can feel damn near impossible. This morning I let a friend know I was struggling.
“The how long part is the worst,” I confessed.
“You know,” she replied, “that’s very biblical.”
(Pastors, amiright? Even at 9 am on a Saturday they can’t shut it off.)
So I literally typed “how long Bible” into the search bar and up popped Psalm 13. Trust me, you don’t have to be religious, or even believe in God, for that matter, to get something out of this one:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
I know as much about the Bible as most Catholic high school graduates, which isn't saying a whole helluva lot. I know the word itself means “song,” and I know they’re often set to music or chanted in both Christian and Jewish services. I sense this particular singer has endured something miserable for quite some time. His patience is wearing thin. He’s getting a bit antsy…even angry…and he wants an answer to his question, dammit.
Just like many of us right now.
And guess what? He doesn’t get one. Here’s how the Psalm continues:
But I trust in your unfailing love.
You see, this is why people get so pissed off about the Bible. The answer to “How long?” is “But I trust."
That’s, like, not even an answer.
Unless that’s precisely the point.
Maybe fear and anxiety and suffering isn’t about how long. Maybe it’s not about endurance. Maybe it’s about trust. And maybe it’s helpful to frame things that way for a minute.
Endurance demands a lot of us. We have to be strong to endure. We have to fortify our bunkers and tighten our muscles and keep our anxieties in check. Trust is completely different. Trust is about letting go. Trust isn't about self-reliance; it's about interdependence and human connection. And while I’ve had some hot mess moments over the last few weeks trying to endure the challenges of an unfolding pandemic, I’ve also had some incredible glimpses of what trusting in unfailing love looks like.
I bet you’ve seen it, too, so I won’t bother linking to viral clips of neighbors gathering six feet apart on the sidewalk singing “Happy Birthday” to a six-year old. Or the husband holding up a “thank you for saving my wife’s life” sign to the glass window of an Emergency Room.
Instead I’ll narrow my experience down to just yesterday. And not even all of yesterday. This is some of the love I witnessed on one 40-minute walk with my husband:
I saw my friend Tammy, who was delivering a box of rice to our friend Joe.
I saw a brother and sister spreading out hand-painted rocks on a beach towel on their front lawn. “Come take one!” they said, stepping back to maintain a six-foot distance. “They’re for free!”
I saw my friend Pam, whose first question was, “Is your mom alright?”
I saw Michelle and Riley, honking and yelling from their car that they can’t wait for Sunday night’s Zoom meeting.
I saw stuffed animals propped in windows and hope-filled messages chalked on driveways.
And that's not an exhaustive list.
How long will this last? We don’t know. No one does. So I think it's perfectly okay to feel the pit in our stomachs. It's ok to feel our anxiety growing and our patience wearing thin. And it's ok to keep demanding answers.
But it’s also important to accept that the answers may not come…at least not anytime soon. And in the meantime, even when answers fail us, we can trust that love does not.
|The "Hope Rock' we selected. And yes, I washed my hands.|