The Wisdom in Waiting During Quarantine

A man had just had his annual physical and was waiting for the doctor’s initial report. After a few minutes the doctor came in and said these fateful words: “There’s no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.” Man, that is exactly how I feel today in quarantine. God bless those individuals who have already been experiencing social distancing because of treatment regimens or due to physical and other limitations. I have not had enough sympathy, and I’m sorry. This quarantine thing is harder work than I thought.

The first few weeks were filled with catch-up items from lists of things that have been lingering around for quite some time. Now they’re caught up, and as a “Do-it-right-now” kind of person, I’m about to go bonkers or slip into a Dr. Seuss-like Oh, The Places You Will Go “Waiting Place.” To be sure, there’s still work and ministry taking place, more than ever, but done so differently that it’s almost like running in place. I’m talking with parishioners every day; just got off two back-to-back Zoom meetings; have done research, written sermons, planned programs, talked budgets, and prayed and prayed ad infinitum, but it’s weird, isn’t it? Time seems out of joint.

Many of us have spent time in the hospital and know that there are some common experiences that everybody shares. One that comes to mind in these days of quarantine is losing track of time. If you’re in the hospital even for a short stay, pretty soon your days and nights are all mixed up. You wonder what day it is. Normal routines are out the window.

That’s what’s on my mind today. Is it Monday or Tuesday, whatever, and forget about what date it is. Is this what retirement will be like? That sounds pretty good at first glance, but here I am whatever the number of weeks we’re into this isolation, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. One thing I know is that I need to wear a mask, not to help me avoid the virus, but to keep me from eating more than I should. I do read and pray, and have already Netflixed through every episode of some shows I had never heard of before.

In reading the Bible, the pastoral epistles of I and II Timothy, and Titus were great, but I felt quite un-pastoral without a tangible, huggable, handshaking flock to enjoy. Then came I & II Thessalonians, the Gospel of Mark, but things took a sharp turn down a dark alley this morning when I felt led to read Ecclesiastes. I should have never done that! Talk about depressing? It’s called “wisdom literature,” and it very much is, but Ecclesiastes calls into question much of what I/we valued before COVID-19, and it seems the most often repeated word in it is “meaningless.” It’s a downer, except that it’s true. Just like these quarantined days, it makes me question my values, purpose, and destiny.

Before you promise NOT to read it, let me implore you to do it. It strips away pretense and gets to the heart of what’s important in our lives. I won’t tell you how it ends except to say that it ends well. It is the most accurate assessment that I have encountered about my life in a long time. It may speak to you in a different way, but that is the wonder and power of the Bible. Even if we reread a passage, The Holy Spirit can bring forth new wisdom at just the right time.

The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” that is straight from Ecclesiastes 3, says that there are seasons, juxtaposed and seemingly opposite, but to be embraced because when these vastly different things are combined we encounter real life – not some sham, not seen through rose-colored glasses, but REAL life. Maybe that’s what I’m feeling today – the depth and richness, not of busyness, but of the interplay of my inner thoughts, even God’s Spirit dwelling within, closer than my closest breath.

Nathaniel Hawthorne has been called “a dark romantic.” This is what he said about these kind of days when we ponder the meaning of life: “Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” May this week take you to a new place of self-reflection and discovery, even happiness? God bless and protect you and us all. Amen.

Patient Endurance in the Pandemic

It has often seemed puzzling that people in the hospital are called, “patients,” when it’s so difficult to have any. Patience is hard to come by, but one thing that COVID-19 has taught us is sometimes we have to wait. The whole world has turned into a hospital of sorts, and we’re getting impatient! Many people’s patience is running thin: Presidents, governors, politicians and all kinds of people are going stir crazy to get “normal” life going again. Our quarantine situation reminds me of Revelation 14:12 when the early Christians were being persecuted. They were encouraged by these words, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of God’s saints…”

Patient endurance, determination, and hope are so needed right now! Many of us feel somewhat helpless and powerless in the changing landscape of our lives. Tornadoes and storms have added more on top of what most can bear. Our spirits are downcast, and it feels like Easter didn’t last near long enough. But, if Easter means anything, it means that Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory, not just over death, but also over the coronavirus, and everything else. Easter gives us hope that lasts well beyond Holy Week. It is eternal!

Easter is what gives God’s saints “patient endurance.” Easter hope inspires us to hang in there, to keep praying and not give up. Faith that only flourishes when times are good is fickle and transitory. Just two days ago the echo was heard: “The Lord is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” If it is my profession of faith that Jesus is alive, then I need to get my act together. Easter changes much more than COVID-19 ever will. It’s up to us to act like it!  Patient endurance is more than a hopeful fantasy if Jesus is really king. The hurting world around us and the Lord Christ above us deserve better than half-hearted Hallelujahs that last only a few days.

There’s a good story that captures this sentiment. There was a band of minstrels who traveled from town to town playing music to make a living. Times were hard, like now, and they were getting depressed and dejected because fewer and fewer people showed up to listen. Early one evening when they usually set up to start playing, their situation spilled over into their conversation. All but the oldest suggested that they not perform. “What difference would it make?” one asked. Another said, “Last night we performed for only a handful. Fewer will come tonight.” Yet another said, “How can anyone do his best for so few?” The youngest threw in the towel saying, “Let’s not even perform tonight. It won’t matter if we cancel the concert.”

The oldest minstrel wisely said, “I know we are all discouraged, but we have a responsibility to those who might come. It’s not their fault that others don’t show up. We will go on, and we will do the very best that we can do.” Encouraged by the words of their eldest member, they went ahead with the show. They never performed better!

When the show was over and the small crowd was gone, the oldest called his troupe to him. In his hand was a note that had been handed to him by one of the people who had been in the audience. The old man read it to himself, and then exclaimed, “Listen to this, my friends!” Something electrifying in his tone of voice made them all turn to him in anticipation. Slowly the old man read: “Thank you for a beautiful performance.” It was signed very simply – “Your King.”

God our King is watching our performance in these strange days. Our “patient endurance” will be rewarded with, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” It is not the time to give in or give up. It is time for us to be at our very best, and honor King Jesus in all things. We have an audience of friends and neighbors who desperately need us to be the Church. Mainly we have an audience of One!

Holy Saturday Redux


Waiting, waiting, waiting – We’re waiting to hear from Narcie’s doctor about the pathology report. We’re staying busy in this limbo land. Narcie is staying at Josh and Karen’s parsonage a few miles from her house. Mike comes over during the day and will stay tonight while his Mom a.k.a. “GiGi” takes care of the kiddo’s. She has been great with them! Narcie couldn’t stand being away from them any longer today so Mike brought Evy over this morning and Evy slept on Narcie’s chest for an hour, angelic. Tonight Narcie couldn’t do without her Enoch-fix so she went over to the house, and it was reunion-time. Sweet. Enoch and Evy were so glad to see their Mommy. She would be staying there except for the doctor’s concern about her condition and stamina, plus the stitches that stretch all the way across her head like a braid. Narcie got Enoch & Evy to bed and we’ve made it back over to Josh & Karen’s. It’s a weird feeling to me, doing the hokey-pokey with one foot here and another foot there. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for Narcie and Mike.

At least they gave me something to do today. Narcie’s van had two recalls on it, plus it needed a few other maintenance issues done. So what was supposed to be a 2 hour-max visit to the car dealership ended up lasting all day – all of which had me feeling a little out of the loop on the home front. I know I bothered them all, calling to see if they heard anything from the doctor. Waiting sucks! I’m trying to prayer-walk like I do in Columbia and do what Cindy always says, “Turn your worries into prayers.” I did that in the parking lot at the car dealership and that was fine except for the salespersons.

This in-between time is such a funky place. You’re not sure if you should plan the next day or the next week because you don’t know what it may hold in store, but, hey, c’est la vie, n’est pas? (That’s life, isn’t it?), but in this case I’m starting to feel more like saying, c’est la guerre, n’est pas? (That’s war, isn’t it?). The battle rages in my heart between the unanswered what-if’s and the answer that I know by faith, “All things work together for the good of those who love God… and nothing in all creation will separate me from God’s love” (Romans 8). Well, yeah, I believe this. I know what Good Friday feels like and I know Sunday is coming, but this is Holy Saturday, the day between the crucifixion and Easter’s glory. What do you do with Holy Saturday? How do I handle this?

Maybe I’ve been missing some of Easter’s power because I’ve skipped too quickly from Good Friday’s gloom to Easter Sunday’s resurrection. I’ve been guilty in too many churches of scheduling Easter Egg Hunts on Holy Saturday. Boy, does that seem pretty stupid right now. Maybe if I had been more able to sit in the stark silent reality of “no news yet” on Holy Saturday I would have been better prepared for this surreal experience. I’ve been guilty of glossing over God’s times of silence and jumping ahead to God’s shouts of “Victory!” Why? Because it’s easier to hear a trumpet than the sound of crickets. One says, “Hop to” and the other lulls you into silent oblivion. Silence and death are both anathema to being Christian, right?

Wrong. God’s silence is a megaphone. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith, not its enemy. Holy Saturday confirms Easter rather than denies it. If Jesus’ death weren’t a real death, and if Jesus didn’t really descend to the dead, then Easter ain’t much, is it? Next year Holy Saturday is going to a be observed with a fitting amount of reverent anxiety so that Easter glory might be better appreciated. That’s where I am tonight – pondering, praying, waiting – not in vain, but it isn’t Easter yet.

Seasons of Love


This is a waiting time and anybody who knows me, knows that’s not easy for me. We had an interesting day yesterday with Narcie and Mike while Mike’s Mom took care of Enoch and Evy Grace. There were 2 MRI’s, four doctors, two nurses, one of whom Narcie said was reminiscent of Dr. Gregory House of “House” fame. They didn’t tell us anything and the old adage, “No news is good news” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. This waiting place, a la Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You will Go,” is a rough place, but we’ll all sit there time and time again. It’s what we do with the waiting that makes the difference I guess.

I’ve been pondering God’s word about waiting and being still. Psalm 46:10, 11 rings true: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Stillness and not panic; trusting in God -the God who in Jesus enfleshed Himself into our existence, the good and the bad – this is what is keeping me sane right now.

Psalm 46 caused me to remember II Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (Which means “praise,” by the way) was surrounded by invading armies. He called for a fast and prayed (vs. 12b) “… We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he said, (vss. 15b, 17) “… This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS, BUT GOD’S; You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; STAND FIRM AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE THE LORD WILL GIVE YOU…” Then the neatest and most illogical thing was decided. Instead of putting his best troops at the front of his army, Jeshoshaphat put the choir up front (vs. 21b) “to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'”

Then it says (vs. 21) “As they BEGAN to sing and praise…” the Lord defeated the enemies. So today in the waiting place I am going to praise the Lord, stand firm, and wait with hope, keeping my eyes on Jesus. Every bit of life is an opportunity to find that quiet place deep within ourselves where we exalt the Lord, not our fears. Life is fleeting and made up of minutes that are minute chances to love, not hate, to make peace and not hold grudges, to hear God’s voice above the cacophony of crows out to get us. Two of the songs that keep playing in my head are “Seasons of Love” from Rent and Five for Fighting’s “100 Years.” I’m praying for Narcie to have more and more seasons of love to add to the ones she’s already lived so well, a 100 years to proclaim Jesus’ love. With Jesus, eternity lasts even longer than that. It is a timeless truth especially in the midst of life’s frailties: Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.

I hope this inspires you as it does me to listen, listen and love, love, every minute.

This video/song underscores my desire that we appreciate every moment and never miss what we give away. In the words of Jim Elliott, great missionary who gave his life to take the Gospel to the Auca Indians: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In a Tizzy or Trusting


I just saw a sign riding down a Columbia street in front of a United Methodist Church. It said: “Sermon Waiting For God.” There wasn’t a colon between “Sermon” and “Waiting,” and I found it either an intriguing title or an accidental conundrum. I hope every sermon that I preach or any preacher preaches, for that matter, is “Waiting for God.”
It’s a fact that I have preached more than a few where I didn’t wait on God long enough and should have gone into the pulpit Quaker-style and waited for a Word from the Lord. But, oh no, I have usually thrown something together in my own strength or perceived ability, and then I wonder why God didn’t show up. I didn’t wait long enough.
The rhythms of life are all about waiting, pausing, taking a deep breath. As I write this, however, I know that sometime today I am going to get a phone call that was set up yesterday and is extremely important. Here’s the deal. It was MUCH more important yesterday when it was set up. Part of me was very anxious, a bit angry, more than a little bit hurt, and flumoxed a lot. Here’s the deal 15 hours later: Big deal, whup, whup!
If I trust the Lord who is as perennial as the tide and as solid as a mountain range, then what’s up with worrying and freaking out? Two sayings come to mind that I must choose between: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the Church help!” and “Worry is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere!” So let the church kill me, or be still. Two choices. I hope that I make the right one when the phone call comes.