By Steve Gregg
Many years ago I heard someone who was often described as an eternal optimist as someone who could walk into a room full of manure and be happy, because they knew with such a big large pile, there HAD to be a pony in there somewhere! I think of that description often when I’m with certain people (like Eric Olson) who seem to be able to see the positive in almost any situation. It is a tremendously beneficial perspective and helpful to have around you.
With COVID and all of the recent challenges, this can be difficult to maintain. There is no doubt that the recent months have been stressful and difficult for everyone. And yet in the midst of everything, there are reasons as well to be “looking for the pony”. Because even in these times there have been for many moments of encouragement and even sweetness. As one of your pastors, I thought I’d share what are some of the negatives I see as well as some of the positives from what we are going through.
Isolation: One of the challenges I have seen is that this time has been terribly isolating for many people. This is true for many folks but as often the case, people who already were at a deficit for community and connections have been at a disadvantage and even more cut-off from the community. These folks are in many ways the people I worry about the most.
Fear: The multiple whammy of a once in a century world-wide pandemic, racial and societal unrest, economic uncertainty, a contentious election season, and the list goes on, has caused many to become even more fearful and troubled.
Resignation or Anger: When we spend enough time feeling isolated and fearful, it’s easy to end up in one of two places, totally withdrawing from others or angry and on the attack. Fight or flight. While these are natural reflexes to threats, neither of these are healthy, productive places to end up for the long run. The tone and tenor of our conversations, the things that we post on social media and the state of our relationships all are indicators of which of these 2 ditches we are most naturally drawn to.
The value of community: our culture is so individualistic and self focused. If this time has taught you that community is fragile, it has also made it clear that it is also very precious and important. We need other people in our lives and while ZOOM is a gift, nothing can replace being physically present with others. God has made us “embodied” creatures. We need physical connections for mental and spiritual health. If this crisis helps us to see the value and importance of being an active part of a community, it will be a gift.
The precious promise of God’s sovereignty: It is easy to say we trust God’s sovereign plan when our lives are basically going the way we have planned. But let sickness hit, a beloved child stray or a future career path evaporate and the promise that not a hair from your head can fall without the loving knowledge of a merciful heavenly father and that doctrine becomes a refuge, a place of safety in the midst of a howling storm. I think this time is given to us to produce that sort of theological transformation for any number of doctrines that have become too dry and sterile.
The unexpected joy in the midst of struggles: The proof of the power of the gospel is that in the midst of suffering and hostility, the early church loved well, both those within the church as well as even those persecuting them. And they did so joyfully because they were seeing God at work in their midst. We are in a time that although difficult, is also absolutely pregnant with the possibilities for God to show up and do something amazing. I was speaking recently to someone whose wife had decided she was going to start meeting struggling moms in local parks for play dates. She was encouraged by the impact she was able to have by doing fairly simple things.
In the words of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."