October is reserved for awareness about many issues: infertility and child loss; breast cancer; domestic violence; and mental health. What I noticed about all these issues is they are hidden – issues we do not talk about, have shame about, or are labeled as “private” and therefore off-limits. And while I always like to respect people’s privacy or private grief, when we do not talk about these issues, we end up ignoring people’s pain or worse, robbing them of our empathy and support. By hiding these issues away, we can do more damage than the issue itself.
I have seen a similar pattern with the Coronavirus. Because we are physically isolated, we struggle to make space to honor the physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial strain of this time. In my pastoral conversations, I have heard the grief of people who are physically or financially secure but are overcome with anxiety and depression. I have talked with those who have lost jobs and are struggling with a sense of failure that has nothing to do with their abilities, effort, or achievements. And I have reflected with others on how things slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy as we progress forward in phases of regathering in our communities makes them feel even more stress – as if they should feel normal too, but cannot seem to operate at full capacity.
In times like these –in infertility, infant loss, breast cancer diagnoses, domestic violence events, and mental health strains – but also most certainly during this pandemic, many of us are trying to show strength or an ability to power through, so much so that we avoid taking our suffering to God. But that is not the kind of God we worship. God does not expect an ability to be stronger than the pain and suffering of this world. Instead, God longs to be invited into our pain, journeying with us, giving a comfort the world cannot provide. This kind of relationship involves vulnerability and honesty – something that may be difficult for us. If you find yourself in the midst of that struggle to trust God enough to show your weakness, or if you are feeling shame for your lack of empathy lately, I invite you to pray Psalm 139 with me this week, especially the first twelve verses. I leave them here for your prayers, inviting you to be gracious with yourself, with your neighbor, and with the stranger. Even if we do not know their struggles, God does.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.