Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
We were staying in a house in Mammoth when we received the shock. I was stepping out of the shower and I could hear my wife’s turbulent voice in the adjacent room.
“Are you serious? It isn’t possible!” Silence while she listened to the person on the other end of the phone. “Could it be wrong?”
I quickly wrapped myself in a towel, as my mind ran to put pieces together, speculating what was causing the chaos on the phone call. Eventually, like Lego pieces clicking together, I came to the true conclusion, ‘my wife has Covid.’
She finished talking with the nurse and I held her close as she stood with the look of trauma on her face.
Of all the members in my family, there was one in particular that we needed to keep from getting the virus; that was my wife. With her chronic lupus condition and her propensity toward pneumonia, she was in the high-risk category to be badly affected by the disease.
We had been taking extra precautions to limit her contact with others, and I had been praying everyday that she wouldn’t get the disease. And then she did.
We don’t know how she got the virus. And one of the great mercies of my life: her body has reacted extremely well. Her symptoms are mild and she continues to improve.
My mind speculates on what could have been, and I shutter. My empathy for those that are dying, or have lost loved ones to this disease has deepen like a steel shovel breaking into hard soil. Not everyone has been as fortunate as my family has been. And the number of infections continues to multiply in our state and across the globe.
It is both a time of gratitude in my life, and a time of anxiety. And God’s word gives life-giving direction amid the difficulty. In the letter of Philippians we are encouraged to take every worry, every anxiety, every concern and burden to God in prayer.
One of the great mistakes we make in our prayer lives to think that God, our marvelous Creator, is looking for shiny, polished people that come into his presence with their lives all put together. I find the more specific I can be with my struggles when I pray, the more of God’s powerful presence I get to experience. In our current difficulty it might sound something like this: Father, I am prone to anxiety. I worry about my loved ones, who are vulnerable, getting sick. I feel fearful about the direction of our nation, and our economy. My heart breaks for those that are dying. I feel impotent to change the direction of these enormous burdens.
God is looking for real people to be in relationship with Himself, not with cardboard cutouts that have a smile painted on. And once we come to him with our real struggles and worries, he draws near to us (James 4:8). It is important that after expressing our concerns and negative feelings to God that we don’t just say ‘amen,’ and rush back into the chaos. Give God time to respond. Allow his peace to start to move into your heart and your mind. Open up the Scriptures to allow him to speak His hope and promises into your life. See if you can move from a place of fear to a place of gratitude. As bad as things are, we can always acknowledge they could be worse. Take for instance where my heart is at today: Father, in the midst of this chaos, including isolation, cabin fever, and inconveniencing friends and family, thank you that it isn’t worse. Thank you that I’m not at the hospital today, or the graveside. Thank you that you’ve promised that even the hardest things in our lives will be used for good in your purposes, for those that love you. May you redeem even this tribulation. Amen.
Together in the Journey,
My father was a patriot. He had grown up in a poor section of Riverside in a dysfunctional family. For his eighteenth birthday he was given a suitcase, and told to find a new place to live. He chose to enlist in the Navy, where he served three stints in Vietnam. He was trained as an electrician and then used his GI Bill to become a civil engineer. He served another 20 years in the reserves including a call to active duty following 9/11. My father didn’t always agree with the decisions that America and its leaders made, but he wouldn’t criticize them. “America’s been good to me,” was his default reaction.
Truly, America has been good to most of us. It has given us a relatively safe place to live. It has given us opportunities for education, and pursuing meaningful employment. It has helped us preserve our health, raise families if we choose, and to believe and worship according to our conscience. When you put our nation in the context of the way most kingdoms of the world through history have functioned, we’ve been blessed to have such a place to live. (Not to mention it has given us the Sierra, and the Pacific Ocean and the Grand Canyon).
But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to continue improving for the better. It is a mistake to think that we must choose between affirming America’s strengths or criticizing her faults. Any successful business leader in our prosperous nation would tell you for them to continue their success, they must regularly take an honest inventory of the state of the business. What are we doing right? Where are we making mistakes? How can we improve? What can we celebrate?
It is this elusive mix of appreciation and critique that moves a healthy organization forward. And it is this level of common sense that our nation needs from us at this critical time. One of the cautionary moments in Israel’s history that has been preserved for us in the Scriptures, came during the reign of King Jehoiakim at the end of the 7th century BC. The nation, for several generations, had been drifting away from the faith of their ancestors. But they still had a prosperous nation. A ragged prophet by the name Jeremiah came warning the nation that they needed to do away with the injustices, abuses and deception of their nation. They needed to return to true worship of the Almighty Creator, and to living out his just principles, or else they would face judgment. What was the response from the privileged and ruling classes in Jerusalem?
“The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4)! The people pointed to their nation’s history, and the victories that God had given them in the past, including the construction of the glorious temple, and they claimed they were protected. They refused to look critically at the state of their nation. They clung to the fact that they had been a blessed, and God honoring nation. They weren’t willing to consider that God wanted them to continue growing and improving. Eventually the judgement predicted by Jeremiah fell upon them and Jerusalem was overthrown by the Babylonians.
God honors a people that are willing to appreciate and preserve what has been given in the past, while continuing to make improvements toward a just and equitable society in the present. We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history. There is no shame in being American, and in being a patriot. We come from a strong and beautiful nation, with a rich history. Let us love our nation enough to work toward making it a place that is safe, and equal for all peoples, young and old, black and white, healthy and unhealthy. May America continue to be beautiful as we choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another.
Together in the Journey,
Fr. Cam Lemons