“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The quarantines and sheltering-in-place as we face the medical and financial challenges that the virus is causing across the globe are no longer new experiences, at least for most of us now. The realities are already setting in. At this time, over 1.5 million cases have been identified worldwide, and deaths are nearing 100,000, though no one really seems to know the actual extent or fatality rates at this point since even the best epidemiologists are making educated guesses as to how many undiagnosed or unreported cases there are.
As the realities are setting in, folks are responding in different ways, with more assertive and passive tendencies. Some are ready to move on and get life “back to normal” as soon as possible. While this tendency is helpful in the sense that it will take this kind of assertiveness to get social-cultural actualities to whatever the “new normals” will look like, it also can lead to an unrealistic sense that things will just snap back in a short amount of time, which will likely be quite disappointing and even dangerous. Others are more passive and are feeling despair. For some, this is a time to just crash or insulate, though complying with the distancing mandates is, of course, an honorable and right thing to do. Even more so, many are entering into what psychologists call “learned helplessness,” as a psychologist friend of mine noted to me recently, where resignation turns into lack of personal agency to do what they can to make things better.
There is reason to be hopeful about the long-term future. Yet the moment now, in mid-April 2020, is one of endurance, courage, discipline, and wisdom in the middle of this tribulation.
The word that Paul uses in Romans above that is translated for us as “endurance” has the connotations of “holding steady” or “stay centered” or “don’t break apart.”
That is a good word for us right now. It reminds me of how important holding steady can be in moments of difficulty. An example from my own life experience might illustrate this.
When I was home from Bible college one summer, I decided it was a good idea that I would throw my Bible and some books in my backpack and climb to the side of a ravine in an urban park where I grew up, an area I knew very well, and prepare a sermon for my church youth group. Quaint idea. Except that it had recently rained and the side of the ravine was muddy.
I made it up from one side, and, not heeding better judgment, I kept going, realizing that I was getting myself in a worse and worse position. I ended up a good 60-100 feet up the side of a muddy ravine and in a place where I was at a very difficult slope, and still maybe 50 feet below the top of the ravine and in a very muddy spot. At that point, I realized something. If I slip, I may die, will likely break multiple bones, and perhaps become paralyzed. No one was around. I had a decision to make, and I thank God that he graced me with calm at that moment.
I needed to “hold steady” and “stay centered” and “not break apart.” I took a deep breath, smooshed myself into the side of the muddy ravine, and stayed calm. I plotted the best way out. It was up. I could not slip. I knew that 80-90% of the time I could do this without slipping, but that 10-20% chance was real. I needed to make that 80-90% a reality, and thus very much needed to concentrate. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, then, I carefully plotted and made my way to the top of the hill. There were a few moments where my heart nearly rattled out of my chest, but I still stayed calm. I had to make a few adjustments along the way, but calm thinking helped me find the way out. I have lived to tell this story. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, my local newspaper, didn’t have to run a short story on 15B of the Metro section titled something like “Bible College Student Kills Himself on Sermon-Prepping Hike.”
As I got to the top of the ravine, I felt relief. I came out in a backyard where some adult was doing yard work. I can’t remember the specifics, but I can remember the feeling that I had no shame for looking what may have looked odd and silly to that person. I can’t even remember if it was a man or woman now, as it was over 20 years ago. At that point, I just didn’t care. I lived. I wasn’t laying at the bottom of the ravine paralyzed and broken desperately hoping that someone would find me. I wiped the mud off of my face and the front of my body, and, literally soiled up, I hiked safely along the sidewalks back home.
I endured. I was able to “hold steady.” I “stayed centered.” I “did not break apart.”
The tribulations we are all going through during this season call for us to “hold steady,” to “stay centered,” to “not break apart” here. Almost all of us have had some major life changes, at least temporarily. Others of us have lost jobs and are facing fears or fears for others. Others, still, are sadly facing disease more directly. Yet others are facing emotional, financial, relational, or vocational losses, at least for the time being.
Calmness and centeredness in the face of adversity means getting outside of our own selfish interests and turning towards God’s gracious and never-ending supply of endurance. If our hearts continue to beat, and our lungs continue to breath, and our minds and neurosystems continue to operate, then God has given us another opportunity to endure and work towards the good of God’s world in this life.
So, let us hold steady in our homes as well as our necessary work and outings. Let us not freeze nor project unrealistic desires onto the realities we face. Let us stay disciplined in our actions so that we can calmly climb the side of our ravines.
No one can say when we’ll climb out of this, soiled up as we’ll be. Sooner or late we will. Right now, though, we’re still on the side of the ravine. So, stay steady and endure. And let the love and grace of God, and others, build up to encourage us in our endurance.