The start of this new year has sent my mind back to last year, in the first months of the pandemic, before we knew all that was to come. I spent Spring in my childhood home, thinking I was just riding out a few weeks of quarantine before going back to my normal life. I would prepare my first meal at 1 in the afternoon (I was intermittent fasting because what else was there to do and also anxiety), and I would sit up here on the floor with my back against the sectional sofa, and I would watch a funny show I had seen before and laugh and hope it would last forever both because it was hilarious and also because once the episode was over it meant I had to decide what to do with that hour, that day, my life.
It’s been about 10 months since those days with my back pressed against the couch and my eyes glazed over with hope and fear. Well, my back is still pressed up against a different couch and my eyes are still aching with the effortful sustainment of hope amidst fear.
2020 was an onslaught of all of the emotions we work our very hardest to keep at bay. The ones we try to only feel once a year, many of us felt every day, and worse. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness, grief. Our hearts rubbed raw from the constant bad news, there wasn’t any recognizable reprieve. If there was any, it was hard fought for. Digging deep into the trenches of our spirituality, vying for a kind of trust we have never had to put to the test before. Remembering that a pinprick of light dispels the darkness. I know it took everything in me some days to hold onto that pinprick.
I knew rationally that everything wouldn’t change on January 1st, 2021. I knew that when I raised my glass with my little pod of trusted friends at midnight that putting my hope in anything other than the consistency of the presence of God would disappoint. But I still believed that something would shift the day I’d get to start writing a one instead of a zero at the end of the date. If we could just get out of the year that had brought so much misery, maybe in just the blink of an eye, we would somehow be okay. Turns out the first month of the year brought division and heartache and rising Covid cases and death. Remind you of another year?
I find myself back in that position, my back pressed up against the couch, trying to decide whether to pray or to numb out with a funny show. Because it’s all too much. I feel my heart begging for a respite while it attempts to heal. Didn’t we already do this? Yes, of course I know the sickness and division in our country and our world runs deeper than the striking of the midnight clock or the virtual ball drop. But how long, oh Lord? I know the depth of loss and pain is complex and varied. I can’t pretend to know the extreme loss and fear that people I know and don’t know are experiencing. All I know is that we are all weary, and we are aching for things to be anything but how they are.
Every year I pray for the Lord to give me a word or phrase to guide my year. A way of putting a stake in the ground, when I need to remember who I am, who He is, and the power of His voice. And let me tell you, I was begging for a word or phrase that would indicate a huge shift this year. Some kind of warrior call that could be my mantra as I charge into 2021 with fresh vision and hope for all to come. And so I waited for my burning bush, to be overwhelmed with some massive battle cry from the Lord. “Be still and know.” Sorry, God, what was that? I must have misheard. “Be still and know.” I’m sorry, be still? Isn’t that what I have been doing for the last 11 months? So much that I fear my muscles and certainly my hope is atrophying.
“Be still and know.”
When the Psalmist uses this phrase in Psalm 46, it is surrounded by metaphors of war and battle, but guess who is doing the fighting? Not us. “He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire. Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:9-10). The Passion translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.”
What kind of God do we have that we get to be still while he fights for us. That he doesn’t tell us to pick up our weary hearts by their bootstraps and fight. But he acknowledges our state and has compassion to fight on our behalf. The hard work of hope—hope in him is worth it. A pinprick of light dispels the darkness. He will do the rest, while we rest. We are weary. A year of beatdown, followed by the lingering months of pandemic. Hope in him is not deferred. His instruction to be still is the kindness with which he covers us. I know we have been still for a year, but the Lord has been fighting, and I invite you to trust in his promise to fight til the end. We need only be still.