6 min. to read.
The fall schedule is upon us! After more than a year of everyone in my family being in the same place all the time, life has exploded. Four different schools and school schedules, three different jobs and work schedules, church roles, life management. I like new starts usually. For me, fall has always meant anticipation and growing enthusiasm. But this time around, as I reflected on our circumstances, different feelings are bubbling up for me.
Truth be told, I’m disappointed. I thought fall would look different. Many of us buckled down and made sacrifices. We took safety precautions seriously, and that wasn’t a small thing. We expected that short-term sacrifices would result in a faster return “to normal.” We are not back to normal. The horizon for when that might happen (if ever) is becoming increasingly unclear. I have feelings about this.
I’m going to share some of those in a moment. As I do, I ask for grace. Hear these words as an expression of emotion, not an objective statement of judgment about others. I’m talking about my inner landscape here.
Don’t like it. Don’t like it at all.
Our work of deconstruction was not malicious or irresponsible—just the opposite. We wanted to preserve, even
I’m sad about the time that feels lost. I’m anxious about our increasingly uncertain future. I’m feeling fearful about the world my teenage children are stepping into. I’m angry with people who opted out of the group project of community health. I feel betrayed by some in my extended Christian community, those who seem to see freedom in Christ as permission to pursue personal comfort and preference rather than an invitation to give ourselves away for the benefit of others. The future feels bleak, a tangle of complications we don’t have the will to solve.
Forgive me… I know pastors are supposed to be encouraging and hopeful. I share my feelings here because I want to make clear that it’s ok for you to feel what you feel, too. I may not be right in my interpretation of my emotions. My feelings may not allow space for nuance about why people make their choices. I understand that. Even so, we still feel what we feel. Acknowledging the truth of our inner landscape is necessary for what comes next.
See, I want to live the next months faithful to Jesus with a deep faith optimism. I want to treat the people in front of me with compassion. I want to live guided by the other-centered, co-suffering love of God and do so with joy and gratitude. Maybe you feel similarly.
We can’t do those things if we choose denial. Plastering a Bible verse bandaid or worship song analgesic on top of our feelings won’t help for long. That path is superficial, a kind of spiritualized bypassing. How then can we walk through this?
How can we walk forward?
The only path forward is confession. We might think of confession as “admitting fault” or confessing our sins to God to receive forgiveness. Instead, think more broadly. Confession is the spiritual practice of naming what is true. In the presence of God, we say, “Yep. This is me. This is where I’m at. For good and for bad, this is the whole of me.”
I’m bringing all my complicated feelings before God and naming them. I acknowledge that I can’t just change these feelings on my own. I name my uncertainty. I don’t know how we’re going to navigate this next year. I name my fear. I don’t have it in me to do another year of COVID. I name all of that before God. I confess my frustration, and I offer it as a sacrifice. God, I don’t know what to do with all of this. Here I am.
That is my confession. What’s yours? Our confession gives God space to apply grace to our tired hearts. Our honesty before God is the open doorway for the Spirit to empower us for moment-by-moment faithfulness.
We are not the only people to feel this way. The Biblical record suggests that living in a time of trial is a pretty common experience. Here’s just one example from Isaiah 43. In a time of deep uncertainty and displacement, the prophet Isaiah articulated God’s presence for the exiled Hebrews. First, he acknowledged their painful circumstances that felt like fire and flood. Then he encouraged them to trust. God would bring them through.
“Thus says the Lord, He who created you…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned…because you are precious in my sight…and I love you.” (Read the whole chapter! It’s moving.)
So, here I am. I am present to the tension of my inner world. I am sad and disappointed. I’m angry, feeling put upon. I cannot see the future clearly, and that raises my anxiety level. And yet…
And yet, I can rest—we can rest—in the hands of the One who made us, knows us, and intends our good. We are here to participate in the Divine work of bringing the good and beautiful to life. Even in a pandemic. Even in a time of conflict. Even when we can barely see one step ahead.
I don’t have a plan or model for this year. Maybe, in some ways, that’s an improvement. I believe Jesus walks with us. I don’t know enough to solve the problems ahead of us, yet I believe Spirit guides.
As this new season begins, I encourage you to take a moment and be survey your inner world. In God’s presence, name the state of your heart. Invite the Spirit to apply the grace you need to walk step-by-step into the world you find yourself in, faithful in the midst of your uncertainty.