It was just two weeks ago that I got home from a busy day of class and meetings– to my roommate cancelling a huge conference she had planned for months because of the spreading coronavirus. That was the first big cancellation that made the illness feel like a more immediate threat. It was also what made me realize that my long-awaited summer plans– to go back to Ethiopia– might be compromised. At that point, the possibility seemed small.
And now, just fifteen days later, everything has changed. In the course of a week I applied to domestic summer opportunities, packed up all of my stuff, moved off campus, and said goodbye to beloved friends, teachers, and spaces. Some of those goodbyes were temporary; others were more permanent, like the ones to seniors who would not be returning in the Fall. I called off my plans for Ethiopia and took a job in Colorado. COVID-19 went from being a distant, abstract figment on the news to a very near, very disruptive threat. Social distancing became the new norm and everything has been canceled. It’s wild how everything changed so fast.
I mention my own experiences not to complain, rant or reel amidst my own disrupted semester. I am incredibly blessed to have everything I could need at home. But perhaps a piece–if not all– of what I mention above is relatable to you. If you’re a student, I’m sure you too are trying to wrap your mind around a hasty move-out, scattered goodbyes, or disrupted summer plans.
I’ve always found it much easier to process, speak into, and pray for individual experiences rather than nation-wide (or global) crises, and my aim for this post is to do just that. I already feel like my inbox and news feeds are overflowing with messages about how God is in control, how the church should respond in society, and large-scale social responsibilities to be socially distanced. All of those messages may be good and true, but frankly, I’m a bit tired of hearing so many big, abstracted messages about COVID-19. As widely applicable as they may be, they don’t really minister to individual souls in this time of uncertainty and fear.
So I’ll start with this. If you are a student of any kind, you have lost something in the past two weeks. Whether it be the ability to finish your semester in-person, your access to a campus or church or community you love, or even expectations for how the Spring and Summer should go, you’ve experienced loss. And loss can be really difficult to process. For me, one of the hardest parts about leaving campus was losing all the time I had expected to have with my senior friends before they graduated. I grieve the loss of memories that should have been made– an intangible loss, perhaps not even a true loss at all (how can you lose something you don’t presently possess in the first place?)– but still, a cause for sadness.
There are two ways to approach loss– to ignore it, or to face it head-on. I believe that there is no loss that the Holy Spirit cannot use for our sanctification, if we are intentional about pursuing the latter response. We may never know why things are taken away, but we can have confidence that God will grow us when we bring grief to light and offer it to Him. If you’re feeling loss (of anything, even things that seem small and insignificant), take time to grieve, acknowledge how you feel, and ask God to work through your disappointment to show you His goodness.
With all of the losses, cancellations, and changes of plans, you’re probably feeling the weight of the future’s great uncertainty. And as humans who crave the security of knowing what will happen, this burden can be very unsettling. Anxiety-inducing, for some. When will we get to go back to campus? What if the virus continues to disrupt everything far beyond the next few months? What will this mean for everyone’s post-grad plans? What about family members who are elderly or immunocompromised? These are the questions that have circled through my mind, rolling through the landscape of my already uncertainty-ridden understanding of the next few years. Perhaps you can relate.
Molly, Leah and I have talked a lot about uncertainty this year– even before coronavirus shattered plans and brought untimely endings. Uncertainty is a fact of life, and I’m learning that any feeling of future certainty is merely an illusion. Any notion of control is ultimately false. There’s so much we are not in control of (take a global pandemic, for example), and everyone goes through experiences that force them to deal with this reality.
For followers of Jesus, dealing with loss and accepting lack of control need not lead to feelings of futility, helplessness, or depression. Our inability, grief, and insufficiency are never the end of the story. If anything, they can be the fertile soil on which faith grows, if we’re willing to trust that God is who He says He is. Scripture tells us that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing Lord of the Universe who loves and died for us. And He holds our entire lives in His hands.
When I consider this for myself, I keep coming back to the idea that I don’t know what I don’t know. This is a sobering and uncomfortable realization, but it’s true to the reality of my inability to control life, and it’s been a great comfort in the midst of loss. When I’m tempted to feel angry at God for taking away what I think I should’ve had– more time with my friends, a summer in Ethiopia, a relationship that never panned out– I remember that my notions of what should happen are founded on an incomplete vision of reality’s bigger picture. Only God can see that bigger picture completely; only He knows everything that is happening and will happen. And perhaps those happenings are quite different from my preferential plans. Perhaps when He withholds something or cancels plans, He’s actually protecting me and making way for something better. If God really is good, then I must trust that His way is the absolute best, even if it counters what I want. As Paul writes, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Therefore, followers of Jesus can have peace. We can rest in the knowledge that a God who sees reality to completion is the one in control of our lives. We can see our lack of control and incomplete vision not as impairments but as causes to fall into the arms of the Lord. In the midst of loss, we can have hope that God will redeem disappointments and bring even better plans to pass, even if those plans are better because they sanctify us and not because they are more comfortable or fun. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Hear that? God cares for you, and in this time of disappointment and uncertainty, He never ceases to be in control.
So as you settle into the new normal that is life in a global pandemic, choose to see each disruption, each loss, each uncertainty as an opportunity to fall into His arms. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God can use even the biggest disruptions for our good and His glory. Yet this requires that we contend with our limitations as constant reminders to cling to Jesus. Feel the stark contrast between your lack of control and His absolute control. Press into the uncertainty– as humbling and hard as it may be– and let your helplessness drive you to lean on His sufficiency. Face your losses head-on– not in self-pity, but in faith that as you process, God will sanctify you. Admit it: you don’t know what you don’t know, but you do know the One who knows everything and holds your life.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.