Finding Hope in the Midst
By Deacon Timothy Siburg, Director of Stewardship
Hope is a funny thing. It can be fleeting. It can be fulfilling. Sometimes it can feel abundant, and other times it can seem worse than scarce. Amid the realities of an upside-down world, where a pandemic has changed the way we do just about everything, it might seem that hope may well be in short supply.
The numbers are daunting. Each day it feels like a damage report- as cases go up, and the total who have lost their battles with this dreaded virus go up as well. Thinking about a way forward in ministry may seem hopeless too. There is no real safe way to sing in groups right now, and for me, a musician, that makes the idea of gathering for worship in person not very hopeful. My grandma, like many in care facilities around the world is more or less under lock down to try and stay safe. All my family’s summer trips and vacations have been cancelled. Add in the continued isolation and distancing, and it can really feel hopeless.
Amid it all, I am confronted by the words of the prophet, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV). My role as the Director for Stewardship has felt somewhat foreign to me these past couple of months. There have been no visits to congregations across the synod. With there being no synod assembly, there will be no large pre-assembly stewardship workshop as planned. Plans I had for the year ahead are on hold, and what I thought were priorities don’t seem so important any more. I know I’m not alone in this. Anyone could probably reflect on their own life and vocation right now and make similar observations.
“But those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength.” Sometimes it takes an illness or event to wake us up from our lethargy of daily life. Sometimes it takes something so beyond our control to knock us out of our routines, and call us to reevaluate. Amid the pain and suffering of this virus, perhaps God has been inviting us as we physically distance ourselves from one another, to remember how interrelated we are with one another? To remember how much we must each depend on each other as fellow Children of God? What we do matters, like wearing masks when at the grocery store, perhaps not so much for our sake, but for that of our neighbor’s.
It can be hard in these days of being largely confined at home to renew ourselves. Days can go by, and it’s not too hard to forget what day of the week it is (and at this point, perhaps even what month it is). But I have found about five things that I have intentionally added or focused my time on each day which tends to help, especially when going a bit stir crazy by all the people living in my home:
1) Start each day working out. This helps with creating a grounded routine which gets my day off on the right foot.
2) Pray. God’s presence helps me recapture a little bit of patience when it feels I might be on the edge of losing my peace. But also to pray for those who are essential workers and all those facing economic hardships, uncertainty, and unemployment.
3) One way I have found to improve online meeting fatigue is by turning my camera off every once and awhile to stretch mid-meeting.
4) Give myself permission once my daughter has gone to bed, to call it a day. It can be so tempting to keep working, but finding peace and Sabbath time is critical to re-energize.
5) At least once a day, I take a few minutes and name a few things I am grateful for. Giving thanks to God can temper the feelings of frustration that are building up and can even restore my hope.
As strange a time as it is, as deflating as it can be to be one who loves long range planning and only feel like I can plan one week (or maybe even one day) at a time right now, I have hope. I have hope because God is present in the midst. I have hope because I have witnessed more experimentation in this church over the past two months than I have seen perhaps in my whole lifetime. Pastors, Deacons, and Parish Ministry Associates have stepped up to bring worship online and stay engaged with their congregations digitally and over the phone. Resources have been shared widely. And giving has continued. I have hope too, because amid the craziness that feels completely outside of my control, my daughter just recently turned two and my wife and I are expecting our second child this fall. And I have hope, because my mom on Mother’s Day weekend was tested for COVID-19, and the test thankfully came back negative.
I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t believe we’re “going back to normal” like some claim. But I also believe that as God is present in the midst of all of this, we have hope. A hope that God’s promises we know through Christ’s resurrection are true. A hope that propels us forward even in the darkest moments. A hope that not only is God present in the midst with us now, God has always been there and will always be there. Walking with us, for us, and loving us. That gives me hope right now. And it gives me hope that together as God’s people we’ll continue- experimenting, gathering (albeit at a safe physical distance), and staying connected.