Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On
It’s an experience known to every parent. You’re on a long road trip. Mile markers pass. Minutes spill into hours. Tablet and cell batteries drain. The passing scenery, however beautiful, is not enough to allay the boredom. Then, rising from the backseat, drifts the faint, distressful whine: “Are we there yet?”
2020 has been a long ride. COVID-19 has spun our world in strange directions. Beyond the public health concerns, we have felt economic strain, stinging isolation, and pervasive anxiety. There have been deep divisions over proper safety protocols, school attendance, and how to restart the economy. Growing racial tension and a divisive presidential election have heightened the bizarre nature of this year that seemingly will never end. One scientist even predicted Earth would be brushed by an asteroid. Can things get any more bizarre?
Many have remarked, “I’m ready for all of this to be over!” It’s a legitimate grievance. We long for churches, schools, work, shopping, and sports to resume as normal. We want the chaos of 2020 in our rearview mirror as quickly as possible. We are, indeed, ready for this all to be over. But—honestly—we are not there yet.
As we approach the close of a difficult year, could there be a healthier response than simply wishing for it to end? Of course, we don’t have to like it, but simply dismissing discomfort may rob us of opportunities. What if God has more in mind for us than simply getting beyond these days? What if God wants to use times like these to bring spiritual growth? What if God is using these circumstances to help us hear His voice more clearly and to respond more faithfully? What if our current situation provides a fresh setting for God to re-energize His mission through the Church? In short, maybe God is using such a time as this as a call for us to embrace new opportunities for Him.
When a child sits on a playground swing, she knows something about the physics of which we need to be reminded. She begins where she is. She leans back, then she launches forward.
Likewise, we begin where we are. We take seriously the present moment, which calls for lament. Lament is honest groaning to God—a blunt cry that gives voice to loss. Lament is raw and passionate, often carrying a sense of anger or protest. Lament is necessary during distress because it takes seriously our external reality and internal condition. Lament refuses to deny the gravity of a situation. Lament is good and right, simply because, by lamenting, we place our true selves before God. Instead of attempting to dismiss, deny, or discount the reality of our afflictions, we aim our aching toward God. Like Job, we allow ourselves time and space to live in lament without resolution. We lament the present.
From our present position, we lean backward. We remember the story of God. The act of remembering opens the way to imagine life differently. God has been faithful. God has been active. God has been loving. The God who currently appears inactive is remembered as the loving God who enters into our distress. Memory moves us beyond our present position as the past jars the present. The God who has acted in the past is our God here and now. We remember the past.
Leaning backward propels us forward. Memory gives way to hope. Hope is more substantial than just wishing our way out of a predicament. Wishing arises from self. Hope is anchored outside of us in the bedrock of God’s saving activity. Peter declared that God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3 NIV). Our hope is a living hope because our Lord is a living Lord. We approach these days with confidence as we are drawn forward by a vision of God’s future—God’s Kingdom fully come. The God of yesterday and the God of tomorrow is the God of today. We move forward as God’s people who are called through these days. We anticipate God’s activity. We look for God’s redemptive purposes. We respond in partnership with God. We hope for the future.
No, we are not there yet. This difficult season stretches on. In the meantime, let us stand apart as God’s people by lamenting the present, remembering the past, and hoping for the future.
Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.