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Living in the Unknown

Numbers

By Jan Wood

THE GOOD NEWS ASSOCIATES are used to scheduling commitments, retreats, and events for months and years ahead. And we — like you — have lived into this strange state of suspended animation during the COVID crisis. All of our lives, schedules and plans have been upended. We are living in the unknown.

We are used to coping when one person, one family, even one community is hit with tragedy. We know that life is uncertain, that lives can be shattered in an instant. We know how to cope when the props in one area of our lives are knocked out from under us. We, also, know how to gather around and be there for one another — individually, as a community of faith or as a nation. What is different about now is that there is uncertainty in several areas of our lives all at once. A pandemic that is a life and death reality for some, but for others can feel distant and overblown — until it isn’t. Economic disruption can wipe out the best laid plans. The act of going to work has become an act of courage facing the risk of physical diminishment or death. Schools are struggling to weigh opposing goods to serve our youth and their families. Political disarray makes the very foundations of our democracy uncertain. And in the midst of this we are in the middle of profound social change to break the culture of white privilege that spawns unconscionable racism. Polarization — even in the church — pits us against one another when we need to pull together like never before. Anyone of these would call upon all the strength of our inner resources. Together, it is an overwhelming deluge of unknowns like most of us have never faced before.

We hate this. We want this to be over! We want to get back to “normal.” Yet this is an important space for re-creation. Social psychologists teach us about the cycle of change. We have the status quo or homeostasis where things are stable, and we know what to expect. Then something happens that shatters “normal.” We are thrust into a period of acute discomfort. Things are unknown and often unknowable. There is peril. We don’t know what to do to fix it. It feels awful. We are often afraid. This stage is called liminality. But in the period of our world being thrown into disarray, something new is birthed. We do come out the other side. But we are changed. The new normal is not the same as the old normal. Whether this new arrangement is better or worse depends largely on how we deal with the horrible, messy middle.

I have been deeply helped by reflecting on Philippians 4:1-8 in which Paul gives some really practical advice that seems applicable to living in this messy middle of unknowns. My take away from the passage is a set of steps that make space for the Spirit to bring goodness out of chaos and uncertainty.

Let conflicts rest so we can all pull together with God’s purposes.

Rejoice in who we know God to be even though we can’t feel it right now.
Make an intentional effort to remember the goodness of God in your life.
Reflect the Presence of God that is in and with you by the gentleness for yourself and others in these hard times.

Let God know your fears and worries.
They are real and are not to be denied.
But as a potter creates a shape from a lump of clay, let your anxieties be shaped into prayers, praise and faithful actions.
Let your prayers speak God’s heart into the world.

Then put your energies into whatever is
True, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, worthy of praise.
Don’t pour your energy into the bottomless pit of things that are not of God.

We are in the messy middle. It is painful and uncertain. It is beyond our control. Yet God is very much at work. We can be vehicles of new creations for Life and Goodness if we embrace this profound liminality and stay centered and grounded so that God’s Spirit can do its good work of mending that which is broken.