I made a mistake yesterday. I was in the grocery store, and I turned my cart the wrong way down one of the aisles that have now been designated THIS WAY and DO NOT ENTER to keep us safe as we procure food in quarantine. A woman blocked me with her cart and yelled at me, loudly. Then she kept yelling. It took me a minute to figure out what I’d done, and when I did, I apologized. I tried to fix my mistake. The aisle was too narrow for me to turn my cart around, so I struggled to back myself out while maintaining six feet between me and the sea of oncoming carts. I figured it out. But as the woman rounded the corner to the next aisle, she was still yelling at me.
Her reaction felt par for the course for right now, part of a larger whole. There’s panic and chaos and terror swirling all around us. I think the desire to blame someone, to catch their missteps and set them right with volume and emphasis we might not use normally, comes from our deep longing to regain some semblance of control over things. It’s a false hope – I don’t think that lady felt any better after she called out my mistake; if she had, she would have stopped scolding me once I corrected course. She would have forgiven me. But right now we’re all accusing each other (and ourselves) with no provision for forgiveness, because it feels like the stakes are too high, that we can’t afford it.
Sometimes I feel like this frog #2Cherub made when she first came to live with us:
When the quarantine first hit, I was surprised by how, suddenly, I had ZERO patience or tolerance for the feel-good internet influencers I had previously enjoyed. What before seemed like helpful cheerleading and positive vibes now struck me as vapid and insufferable. I mean, I’d always known that most of it was fake. No one optimizes every facet of their lives at every moment; no woman’s worst fault is that she sometimes spends the day in sweatpants and a messy bun. Before the pandemic, I was okay with this fakery: Sometimes watching other people pretending to have it all together inspires me to do a little bit better, and I take that as a win.
In the face of a real crisis, though, I couldn’t delete those posts fast enough. Fake didn’t cut it. I needed something real. I unfollowed with a fury disproportionate to the offense. Then I wondered what to do.
I hadn’t abandoned my faith over the past couple of years, not at all. But it had become kind of like the couch in our living room: I remember when it was shiny and new, and I’m still glad it’s there. I use it every day. But I don’t give all that much thought to how to get the most out of my couch, if you know what I mean.
Now, I needed more.
I needed a way to fend off fear, and the suffocating cloud of blame, terror, misinformation, lies, accusation, sadness, loss, and heartbreak churned up in this experience. I also needed guidance for what to do when faced with the reality that I don’t control… much of anything, really. I knew, intellectually, that this is exactly what God offers. It’s the whole reason Jesus came to earth, let himself get murdered, then rose from the dead to surprise and save us all.
This was deeper than just my intellect, though. I wanted to be surprised again. And, frankly, saved.
It wasn’t elegant, that’s for sure. Wow, was I out of practice. I clawed my way back into my Bible, and camped out in the Psalms, which are the prayers of real people, in real swirls of chaos and crisis and fear. I watched hours of online talks given by people who valued their faith more than their couch. I read books about people whose certainty in God was tested by things like famine and world wars, rather than suburban traffic and the embarrassment of muffin top flopping over the edge of their skinny jeans. (Although I wanted God’s help with those things, too.)
I tried not to look for to-do list style answers. That seemed like to much to hope for. I had this teeny sliver of hope: that some sort of spiritual absorption would happen, the way it does when you spend time with a really smart friend and come away feeling smarter yourself. I wanted to be changed, and I gave up my instance that I should completely understand the process.
I got a little bit of both – some direct pointers, and a supernatural peace I can’t account for aside from God just loving us all more than we believe. Each day, I reminded myself a bunch of times to “walk the talk” of this new way of being, especially when I felt that anxiety creeping up in my chest.
It worked. It’s working. I know this because yesterday in the grocery store, after I’d extricated myself from my mistake and was out of earshot of the woman’s fury, my first thought was, “Wow, I’d better forgive her right now, or this is going to haunt me.” I rolled my cart down the meat aisle, repeating under my breath, I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.
I forgave her. I forgave me. I prayed for peace to replace all the fear…and for the ability to pay better attention to the directional signs on the floor. I hope that she felt it, that the rest of her shopping went well. I’m grateful (astounded, to be honest) by how much peace it brought me. About ten minutes later, I realized that I’d kind of forgotten about the incident. I wasn’t scanning the aisles looking to avoid her; I wasn’t replaying what happened over and over in my mind; I wasn’t looking for a way to make her response the problem instead of my mistake. And while I paid MUCH closer attention to the directional signs after that, it was just normal citizenship, not fear or guilt or shame.
These weeks of quarantine remind me that faith in something real is one hundred times better than the bits of cheerleading and semi-fake enthusiasm I was settling for.
Maybe one of you is looking for this sort of lifeline too.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to post my best understanding of what faith in God, the weird mystery of Jesus, reading the Bible for supernatural hope, etc. looks like and feels like, and how you can dip your toe in and experiment with it if you want to. I’ll base the posts on a series of talks friends & I gave on this subject back in 2016. I’ll update it with things I’ve seen and learned since then. One way you now something is true is that four years later, under completely different circumstances, the basics still hold up and you have new experiences of how they’re real.
If you’re looking for a way to connect/reconnect with God (or you’re curious about how, as a friend once asked, someone like me, who lives in a place like Boston, believes in a guy like Jesus), these posts will offer a way in – whether you’re looking to stay or just passing through.
I’ll post them here on the blog, rather than just on FB/IG, etc., because I don’t want to get caught up in the whole algorithm dance where some posts come up endlessly while others die unseen. Feel free to subscribe via the follow button in the upper right, or just come by daily if you’re looking for the next installment. If you’d like to receive these by email, let me know & I’ll put together a list.
And if you have questions about this, or stories to share? Comment below. If you’d prefer anonymity, my email is Trishryanonline at Gmail. I’m happy to chat.
BLESS YOU in this weird time of quarantine. Whatever your circumstances, here’s to God clearing away the cloud of fear and true, healing sun shining through.