I’m not good at stillness. I’m a busybody. I’ve always been that way. And though I’ve certainly had periods of stillness in my life, they’ve nearly always been forced upon me: a broken foot that stopped my summer, a snowstorm, hurricane, or power outage, a child in the ICU, orders to the middle of the desert for a son’s senior year…always an emergency or an interruption of some sort. And here I am again….
Interesting that such a tiny thing as a virus can stop the cogs of the great, working world, isn’t it? One little thing released to run free, and we have no choice but to respond, to stop, to notice that all our doings are perhaps not what makes the world go after all. (Can you imagine if God let go of gravity for a day? I mean really, ponder that a moment!) Why does it take an emergency for us to see it? And perhaps the real emergency was that we didn’t see it.
I can look back to all those other times: the broken foot summer when I first saw that the beauty and order of my home was something my mother deliberately maintained. The natural disasters that showed the dependable clear sunrise to be a thing we need for its warmth and light, but also for the pull that literally holds us in place. The child in the ICU and a whole life lived in six months, seeing the wonder of what a person is by studying her thoughts through her eyes, sparking her joy with silly songs sung openly in front of all those around. I think it is only when we must stop that we see honestly where we are. When we are busy navigating our own lives we see our own plans and purposes, and so we should. But when we are truly forced to stop that effort, we see something larger…something that holds us in community with those around us that we never quite understood before… something that restores us to a proper place not in the center of the world but tied to it and the others in it. Even in the face of losses, because this sort of interruption does indeed incur losses, we are redirected to some gain. The lost senior year turned out to be a signature experience in a new, exotic place, because we discovered that the desert is indeed beautiful in a different way. The lost child opened doors to relationship and ministry unforeseen, because how were we going to meet a surgeon destined to be our friend in our self-sufficiency?
A rampant virus highlights this. We are all susceptible, and we are suddenly aware of our vulnerability. We see the unclean things in our own space that make us vulnerable (“finally,” say the moms everywhere while passing out Clorox wipes) We suddenly see the more vulnerable – our beloved grandparents or elderly neighbors. We actually have a role in protecting them and others like them, and we are no longer caught in our own small circle.
Social distancing highlights this as well. We stop going out and about and we stay in, with the people we may not have properly seen for months or years. We learn that they don’t like sourdough bread or that they happen to be great at solving puzzles, that they have an artistic streak or a secret fear or a celebrity crush. (“Really?” say moms everywhere who thought they knew their people and have been busy building them futures.) Maybe we see at last that those sassy pants are not really the most flattering pair without the backdrop of teenage angst. We re-center our homes and re-set our nearest relationships.
Certainly, there are things lost – the swim meet for which he was highly seeded, the speech tournaments and that last chance to break, the baseball team he earned a place on, the study abroad opportunity she had to return from, prom, graduation, a trip we’ve been planning and looking forward to, money we planned to earn…maybe that we needed to earn. We feel wronged because we also felt entitled to those opportunities and blessings. This is part of what comes clear in the stillness.
Can you even imagine what Noah and his family must have felt on day 41? The very great loss and devastation? The reduction of all the plans of a people to just this one family unit drawn up together in the greatest global reset ever described? How small they must have felt. How vulnerable. How lonely. How utterly altered. And for how long they had to float along in that very stillness when the rain finally stopped before they could get back on dry ground! How wronged they must have felt in moments! And how grateful in others. How irritated they must have felt during their confinement, and yet how safe. How little control they had (ah, HERE is the real rub!) and yet, how little they could really control.
What we can control is our response and our participation. We can pull together and just work the family puzzle or watch through that Netflix series that you didn’t pick. We can refrain from grabbing the toilet paper before the elderly gentleman can get to that aisle at Walmart. We can FaceTime with our grandparents. We can take walks together. We can plant flowers. We can finally look honestly into that closet that really needs cleaning out and then get to it. We can organize family photos and laugh in new joy at those precious memories. We can do another run through the Chemistry lab kit, or pile craft supplies on the kitchen counter and see what creative output can be generated. We can put the pent-up energies to productive use making something good, seeing something good, and perhaps even being something good for this strange season of stillness. We can seek to know something new about those around us.
But most of all, may we know that God IS good, all the time. He does have control. He does have plans and purposes that – alas – we cannot alter, for we are not, after all, the center of all things. May we see Him more clearly and redirect our love, our joy, our energies and efforts more properly for His sake.