On our recent vacation, we went to the beach in the panhandle of Florida for the 13th consecutive year. Through the generosity of some old friends, we returned to a place we know well and have made lasting memories over the years. But in true 2020 fashion, we experienced some “firsts” this year. One of those new experiences stems from the way the waves crashed onto the shore, which of course, is something that happens constantly. With a hurricane swirling a safe distance out in the Gulf of Mexico, the waters were more turbulent than usual one day and created an effect that was unique for us.
Using a bodyboard, Jake and I took turns body surfing as we have done many times in the past. But as we allowed the momentum of the water to carry us toward the shore, something strange happened. We were using a sandbar to get a little farther out in the water and catch the waves as they started to break. If you haven’t spent much time at the beach, a sandbar is a shelf or ridge of sand just off the shore where the water is shallower. They create relatively deep and calm pools of water near the shore and shallower places – at times only 10-12 inches deep – 30-40 yards out in the ocean. They were great for us because they allowed us to get farther out in the water to ride the waves while avoiding the undertow that comes with deeper, stronger water. The conditions combined to create a circumstance that I had never seen: the waves started to crash on us from both directions.
The waves washed on the shore, bounced back into and through the calmer pools, and then broke on the sandbar as they headed back out in the ocean. At the right (or wrong) spot on the sandbar, a wave coming toward the shore and one going away from it would collide. Because they were mostly small waves, we weren’t in danger, but the double crash was disorienting and made standing still nearly impossible. It was fun for a while but quickly became exhausting.
As I pray for our church family, those double-crash moments seem like a poignant image for many of us in the fall of 2020. Ocean waves provide a powerful metaphor for the rhythm of life’s struggles and trials. They just keep coming. Some are stronger than others. Some swallow us up completely and take our breath. Sometimes we get on top of them and they offer a moment of exhilaration in triumph. But for many of us, this season seems to be bringing burdens from many new and surprising directions. Even more, the convergence of trials has created an overwhelming moment of strain. We’re sandwiched between trials and we feel overwhelmed.
The past 7 months have seemed like a lifetime with enough twists and turns to write a series of novels. Most of us have had to rethink or even rearrange every aspect of our lives. Response to COVID19 has changed the way we relate to our families, often increasing time with our immediate family while decreasing time spent with our extended family. Because of virtual learning, social distancing, and mask-wearing, our daily rhythms of school and work have been dramatically altered. From shutdowns to modified operations to re-openings, much of our regular routine in 2019 has been replaced with a “new normal.”
In addition to these changes and challenges, we’re experiencing the most volatile political season of our lifetimes. Polarization, fierce attacks, and widely divergent parties are not new for our country, but you have to go back quite more than a century to find a moment that felt anything like this one. Thus, many people are discouraged and disoriented on the eve of a presidential election that feels cataclysmic, especially if you watch cable news.
While the usual worries and stresses remain, many have added financial, health, relational, and even spiritual concerns. While I’m burdened for our nation, my heart is heaviest for our congregation. I see the effects of this season in my life, in my home, in our church, and in our community. Therefore, I want to offer three specific encouragements to help navigate this moment.
First, reinvest in the most basic aspects of the Christian life. All of us have had to make new and difficult decisions this year. Even mundane elements of life, like grocery shopping or hanging out with friends, have become complex situations requiring careful thought and planning. I know well that increased decision-making causes emotional, mental, and even spiritual weariness that can draw us away from the fundamental and most ordinary means of grace God uses to sanctify us. When our minds and hearts are tired, we tend to withdraw from what we need most; namely prayer, personal Bible intake, discipleship relationships, and congregational worship. These are pillars of the Christian life and as important in 2020 as they’ve ever been.
Second, consider the ways God is using this season of disruption to expose sin in your life and turn in repentance to him. Back in March when the government began responding to the threat of coronavirus, we were studying the small prophetic book of Joel on Sunday mornings. Recall from that study that God sent a “natural” disaster to turn the hearts of his people back to him. What are the areas of your life in which you’re experiencing greater freedom from sin or increased obedience to God than you were 8 months ago? Correspondingly, what are the areas where sin has taken root or become more entrenched in the past 8 months? As painful as these questions can be for us to answer honestly, this type of reflection can yield moments of thankfulness for spiritual progress and spur us on to continued growth.
Third, rest in the Lord. One of the most common temptations in a moment like this to find solace in one of two ends on the spectrum of busyness and lethargy. Some turn to activity by working more or pouring themselves into a hobby. While God directs us to work, perpetual motion is often a distraction and not profitable. Others run to the opposite end and fritter away their days with video games, social media scrolling, or semi-depressed slumber. Psalm 46 is a gracious gift from God for such moments. The psalmist declares that “God is our refuge and strength” and then extols him on the basis of his greatness and sovereignty. The song ends with the call to rest in God knowing that in all things, even in 2020, God will be glorified.
I pray God will give you renewed energy this month to reinvest, reflect, and rest.