Dear Anxious World,
Firstly, I want to ask you how you are doing? And to let you know I’m not expecting an easy answer.
Clearly, the old, predictable, social ping-ping game of how are you- I’m fine, just doesn’t cut it anymore. Not when you can no longer reach out and touch the person you are speaking to for fear of harming them, or you, or someone else; nor when the air smells nearly constantly of hand sanitiser – it’s the new perfume, the new cologne, a heady mixture of reassurance and a constant reminder that things ARE DEFINITELY INDEED NOT FINE. But at least we can finally be honest with each other now. Can’t we?
So, dear anxious world, I’ll say it again, because it’s important we ask each other a lot of questions now, and that we listen hard with our heart-ears, even if we can’t actually lean in: how are you travelling today? Or, to be more precise, how are you going in this moment? How have the last few hours been? The last hour even? I feel like the question needs to leave room for a lot of nuance now, and for movement too, especially when so much other movement is restricted. Inside my own body, at least, I witness my emotions change across the day. One moment I can be distracted and overrun by normal life. Even in the midst of a pandemic the four year old still wakes and needs breakfast NOW and a puppy thinks your office floor is their toilet and there is soup to be made for dinner. But then, something triggers something inside me, like a lever being pulled, perhaps it is another social media report, stating it has the latest handle on the truth, or a statistic ( so. many. statistics) or even another reminder on how best to wash my hands, of what song is best to use, and I feel panic rising suddenly, and before I can turn the tap off it’s a flood. And it’s filling up my house.
I feel the walls drawing ever closer in, even as I know it is the right thing to do. This isolation for others, this separation for us. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Our church will no longer meet in person, and my son’s year one class cancels their upcoming ‘art exhibition’, and I picture my proud six year-old ‘s Van Gogh impression sitting alongside all those other six year old Van Gogh impressions with no one to see them, to praise and admire them, and suddenly this is the thing that breaks me. That lets the banked up tears out. The virus slashes through everyday life like a cruel gardening tool, shedding weeds and flowers still in tender growth indiscriminately.
But really, dear anxious world, there’s just so much to cry about, isn’t there? The reports alone about what is happening ‘out there’ are enough to worry and weep over. And then everyone has a special someone/s they fear for. I have two. They are painfully tender and kind and still make my kids cookies for school, and would be at that year one art exhibition to see all those imitation Van Goghs in a flash if they could. But they can’t. Because they are old. ‘Elderly.’ With ‘complicating factors’. At risk. And I fear for their safety. There’s that word again: ‘Fear.’ It’s okay to say it you know. It’s not wrong. The secret is not to give into it. Not to let it swallow you whole. Because even when it claims to be, fear isn’t the only emotion, and it definitely isn’t the whole story.
Hope is there too. Hope that there will be days when we can once again touch hands inconsequently, and play how are you-I’m fine ping-pong, and the stakes won’t be so high. But more than this, dear anxious world, there’s hope beyond the boundaries we see. Jesus hope. He says ‘Come’ and He makes no restrictions on distance. He comes even closer. He enters our hearts. He stands beside us always. In every hour, in every shift of mood and moment. He’s not afraid of the latest reports and the stats. He’s not afraid of our fear and questions. And he’s always there to listen.
I found this passage from Romans 5: 1-2 in The Message version particularly helpful this week:
By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.