To admit the obvious but often unspoken truth: a lot of us are struggling these days. How could we not be?
In my conversations with folks, I’m hearing, far more often than even a few weeks ago, expressions of weariness and distress:
I feel overwhelmed . . . exhausted. . . lonely . . . depressed.
I’m eating . . . drinking . . . bingeing . . . too much.
It’s disheartening to make plans and cancel them, make them again and cancel them again, again and again . . .
It looks like there won’t be an in-person Christmas Eve service this year—no candles, no carols, no communion, and no hugs at the door. I’m already grieving.
After everyone else had gone to bed, I had a meltdown.
I’m afraid to admit how afraid I am.
It helps me to remember that God doesn’t want things to be the way they are. Jesus assures me of that truth. In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray for God’s will and way to be fully realized among us because, clearly, they aren’t yet.
Sometimes, I hear the nonsensical claim that whatever is must be what God wants, since God is, after all, God. I can’t reconcile a god who wills pandemic death, institutional and individual injustice, and life-diminishing conditions of any kind with the God made known to me in the teachings and actions of Jesus. I believe that, for reasons having to do with human freedom (we’re free to do harm to ourselves, others, and the earth) and with the nature of divine power (persuasive, not coercive and empowering, not overpowering), our loving God does not always get what God hopes and dreams for us.
Because God doesn’t want things to be the way they are, God gives us imagination, vision, courage, and energy to work with God and with one another to fashion a world in which people are vibrantly alive as a part of a flourishing creation. In our decisions and actions, God is steadily with us, offering us hopeful and life-affirming possibilities, but God doesn’t force us to accept what God offers. We’re free to refuse the will and way of God.
The God we have isn’t always the kind of god we want. When things are as hard as they are right now, we yearn for a god who dramatically and decisively intervenes on a grand scale to save us. There are stories of just such interventions in the scriptures; but, given the long sweep of history that they cover, such unmistakable signs and wonders are comparatively rare.
In response to my frequent laments over lost lives, complaints about the triumph of lies over truth, admissions of anger and frustration, and confessions of doubt and discouragement, what I mostly hear are messages like those the Spirit inspired Micah, Paul, and Jesus to speak: “I’ve shown you what is good: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Bear one another’s burdens. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another. Practice forgiveness. Make peace. Labor for reconciliation. Serve rather than seeking to be served. Love God. Love your neighbors as you love yourself. Love, even, your enemies. See and care for Jesus in the least of these.”
God empowers us for, and joins us in, these ways of living. In collaboration, partnership, and friendship with God, we experience again and anew the love and hope we need to live faithfully and, even, joyfully, even in these perilous and perplexing times.