How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
So writes the psalmist (13), mirroring the way so many of us feel as the third wave of COVID-19 rages on in Alberta and we lock ourselves down under a new level of necessary restrictions. How long will we have to keep away from family and friends? How long will we need to stay in our homes? How long will school be online? How long will my surgery be delayed? How long before my business can open? How long will we have to use Zoom to worship? How long before life returns to some normalcy?
Under the ongoing uncertainty, anxiety, and stress of COVID mitigation measures we languish, an emotional state described in a widely-circulated article in the NY Times by Adam Grant. Neither burnout nor depression, to languish is to feel joyless and aimless. It is “a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” And yet it was already so eloquently described long ago by the psalmist: Will you forget me forever, O LORD? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
In the middle of our languishing it can feel like God’s face – by which we mean things like prosperity, health, good fortune, wellbeing, and contentment – is hidden from us. The psalmist feels it as a kind of defeat. How long will my enemy keep defeating me?
Our first enemy right now is COVID-19. As this enemy spreads in its original and variant forms it brings sickness and death. To fight this enemy we can and must: do everything we can in our personal lives to stay healthy; protect those around us who are more vulnerable by wearing masks and keeping our distance; do our part for the society we live in by following public health orders; and, of course, get vaccinated when that is available. We can fight the enemy that threatens us, and we can triumph. How long will that take? It depends on us all working together.
Which brings us to our second group of enemies, the ones from within: fatigue, despair, division, ignorance, suspicion, blame, anger, and the like. These are the enemies that would tear apart our communities and erode our relationships. They would have us give up the fight against the real enemy without. They are as fearsome in their own way as COVID itself.
How do we keep watch against the enemies from within? The psalmist knows. I trust in your unfailing love; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to the Lord, who has dealt with me richly. The answer is to stay rooted and grounded in God’s promise of steadfast love and mercy, even in a time when enemies surround us. To trust ourselves to God is to make room for patience to grow, endurance to take root, and hope to flourish. Although it opens with an expression of lament, Psalm 13 ends on a tone of peaceful repose.
I hope that in the weeks to come, as we work together on implementing the latest round of public health restrictions, we as a community of Hope turn and turn again to each other with compassion, and to God in prayer with faith. By God’s grace we can do this!