“Due to Covid-19…”

I’m trying to get my refrigerator fixed.

My wife and I bought a brand new GE fridge at the end of May. Not by choice. Our other one became a bit temperamental (bad dad fridge joke, I know). 

The new one’s problem? The digital screen went out. That means no digital buttons to push to get filtered ice or water. 

Normally, it’s not a big deal to call the manufacturer when a major appliance is under warranty and get a repairman to come out to do the job. 

But it’s 2020.

So, obviously, that means back-ordered parts. 

For weeksAnd weeks. And weeks. 

I’ve called GE several times. Every time, I hear this automated message, “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, expect extended wait times when trying to reach a representative.”

I laughed as I tried to figure out how Covid kept me in line for another 40 minutes. (My family is not laughing. They really want the filtered water and ice back.)

Now, filtered water and a fridge digital display are pretty insignificant, I think we’d all agree. It’s really not that big of a deal.

I share the story not because GE is driving me nuts but because when I heard that automated warning I was struck with yet another reminder of how a virus has taken so much from us. 

An Invisible Thief

Covid-19 has single-handedly ruined senior years, freshman years, eighth-grade years, kindergarten years. Any school year.

It has delayed or canceled weddings and receptions and family vacations. It has kept funeral gatherings under 10 people. Ten

Let that sink in.

It has ripped away income from business owners and families. It has robbed job opportunities from college graduates and others in transition. It has forced bosses to lay off part-time workers who are desperate for that weekly paycheck. 

It kept that high school senior from running her last meet. It kept that young boy from seeing his grandpa one last time before he passed away. It kept the single mom home from work forcing her to wonder how she’d pay for groceries the next week. 

It has kept people from gathering to eat and celebrate and mourn and cheer and sing and dance and laugh and swing and worship and run and swim and do all the things that humans are supposed to do together

All this, not to mention the actual lives Covid has taken.

Scientists and doctors are still learning about this virus. Information comes out daily, even six months into the pandemic.

But if there’s one thing we know about this virus for sure, it’s this: Covid-19 is a thief.

I realized this again yesterday morning when a co-worker referred to a loss we experienced as a team due to Covid-19. He said, “We can’t do anything about it. To me, this is just another thing that Covid stole from us.”

When you lose something or have something taken from you, you experience sorrow. 

There’s a strange emotional cocktail of sadness, anger, and frustration. 

It all produces a sense of disappointment. No matter how big or small the thing you lost was, you just want to cry and scream, “This sucks.” 

It’s hard to describe, isn’t it? But you know it when you feel it.

Acknowledge the Loss, Embrace the Grief

Unfortunately, I think that many of us have become so numb to it that we don’t feel it any longer. Or, worse, we don’t want to.

It’s easy to say, “Let’s move on! Let’s get back to life.” Yes. I’m ready, too.

But getting back to normal doesn’t mean you can escape the sorrow. You can’t rush the grieving process, as much as I’d like to try. (ENTJ here—emotions are not my strong suit, and I’m working on it.)

You may have experienced, horrifically, a death in your family or physical pain as a direct result of Covid. More than likely, it has stolen something else from you, something that brings real joy to your life.

The reason I’m writing this is to tell you that it’s okay to grieve that loss.

You may grieve alone or with family or friends. You may grieve by journaling or running or camping. You may grieve by reading Scripture or prayer. You may grieve through tearful conversations with your spouse or best friend. You may grieve by getting out all the photos (if you have actual photos) or scrolling through last year’s Instagram to remind yourself what was taken from you. 

I won’t tell you how to do it. Just that you must

Why? At the risk of being reductionistic, here are three reasons you should grieve.

Grieving Connects Us to Our Fellow Humans

There are billions of people on the planet right now who have endured significant losses this year due to Covid-19. 

Think about that for a second. 

No two stories are the same, of course. But everyone in the world knows what loss is like because of the same reason at the same time. 

This hasn’t happened in our lifetimes. It’s an opportunity to embrace our shared suffering and shared grieving. We are human together.

This shared grief then allows us to move toward each other for comfort and community. In a world where no one grieves, no one needs anyone else. 

But we all need each other. And universal grief connects us.

That leads to the second thing.

Grieving Frees Us from the Pressure to be Bulletproof

I so badly want to be bulletproof. I want to show my wife, my kids, my friends, my boss that nothing can touch me.

But I’m not bulletproof. And, in my sane moments, I know it. 

Grief opens the door for me to say, “I’ve lost something. Something precious. I’m broken. I’m wounded. I’m not in control here and I’m scared.”

When was the last time you were able to admit that? 

When I actually get to this place, I become more empathetic to others. I’m ready to sit with them in the stink without judgment or the need to fix it (also hard for the ENTJs among us). 

I also receive love, care, and help from others without the feeling that I need to repay them or prove to them that I don’t need their help.

I’m broken. I need help. 

And that’s okay. 

Grieving Takes Us Places We Could Not Otherwise Go

This isn’t an article about why bad things happen. Philosophers and theologians have been writing about that for millennia. And I have my own opinions. 

Let’s at least agree on this: bad things do happen and we have to learn to live with the world we’ve been given.

If we lived in a static, happy-go-lucky world without any problems, we would never grow. We’d be…well, static. This isn’t trying to silver-line the pain. It’s the exact opposite: pain has a purpose. 

We grow because of grief. It’s painful and we kick and scream to avoid it.

But we can’t take a detour around it.

When someone grieves a loss from Covid, we need to resist saying, “At least…” or “It’s not as bad as…” or “It’s the agenda of _____!” or some other comment to deflect from the pain.

It may be a well-intentioned attempt to make someone smile, but it stunts their growth, and ours, and makes us both something less than fully human.

As a Christian, I’m reminded of the Scriptures that sum up Jesus’ humanity like this: “A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” 

Christianity provides deep resources to deal with grief, though not because of a system or propositions. 

It’s because of a Person.

A Person who identified with humanity. Became breakable. Endured tremendous sorrow, pain, shame, and grief, only to come out on the other side, fully resurrected and restored. 

I want to get to that place, too. Do you?

Covid has stolen so much from us. It may be a while before the world gets “back to normal,” whatever that means.

In the meantime, let’s grieve our losses. Together.

It’s the most human and normal thing we can do.


From the Valley of Tears to Springs of Living Water

As Jewish pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh in the temple, they would travel through hard, dry terrain. This journey through the rugged Judean wilderness become illustrative of their spiritual life with God. Psalm 84 is one place where this pilgrimage is poetically captured.

In that psalm, we see worshipers who passed through a valley named “Baca,” which means “tears.” The wilderness was a dry and weary place, a sad place. A place to lament. No one should live there. Or ever want to.

But because the Jews were on a pilgrimage through this wilderness, this place that brought tears became to them “a place of springs.” This sad place was an occasion to look forward to the joy that awaited them when they appeared before God in the temple. Why? You cannot know the true joy of Jerusalem if you have never endured the deep sorrow of Baca.

We, too, are on a journey. Not to a physical temple, but toward a new creation. And doesn’t it feel like Baca? I struggle to literally cry (ask my wife). But I’m learning to mourn the brokenness in the world and in me.

Jesus, of course, leads the way. He has walked through Baca—death itself—so he might be for us Living Water. He is our Place of springs in the wilderness. And one day—I can’t wait for the day—he will bring us to the New Jerusalem where Baca will dry up and the river of the water of life will flow forever.


When God Seems Distant

If you’ve been a Christian for more than a day, God has seemed distant. What I’ve learned over the years of walking with Jesus (and I’m still learning, of course) is that the the emotions we feel when God seems distant are signals that God wants to do something important in our lives. What in the world does God want to do when we think he’s so far away? Among other things, he’s training us to ask, “In these seasons, what kind of God do I want? A god I can control? Or a God who is in control?” Second, he’s training us to hunger for him. Just him. When God seems distant, we long for him more than ever. There’s probably a thousand other things. But those are two big things.

When God seems distant, he’s teaching us what we can only learn through experience. And, in that way, these times are a gift. Backwards as it seems.

Of course, what we come to see in the gospel is that Jesus is really the only one who has actually been abandoned by God. On the cross, what you and I sometimes feel, Jesus actually endured. God really left him alone. Why? So that you and I would never have to actually be alone.

The miracle of Christmas is “God with us.” The miracle of the Passion is that the One who is “God with Us” was abandoned by God so we would forever have God with us. You can’t make this up.

So what about the times we feel like God is incredibly distant, even when we know intellectually and theologically he is not distant? In those times, God is giving us a gift, backwards as it seems. We are being made more like Jesus. He’s saying to you and me in those moments, “I have been there. I’ve been to hell and back. When you feel God is distant, like he’s abandoned you, he’s not. My Father—your Father—is preparing you for resurrection.”

Life Theology

Psalm 88: A Paraphrase

This Sunday I’m preaching from Psalm 88. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of that chapter inspired me to take a deeper look and draw out some of the obscurities of this ancient Hebrew song. Here is my best Petersonian effort at my own paraphrase.

Psalm 88

O Yahweh, you are my savior;
   All day and night I’m praying to you.
Please listen to me;
   Don’t plug your ears!
My life is a wreck,
   And I’m standing in my grave.
I might as well be in hell;
   I am weak and helpless,
like one freed to play on a dead-man’s playground,
   like a rotting corpse in a trash pile,
like those you’ve forgotten,
   because you’ve cut them off like an orphaned child.
You’ve put me in a dungeon,
   in a black hole with no exit.
And it’s because you’re angry with me,
   You’re waterboarding me and I can’t breathe.
You’ve made my friends leave me;
   I make them want to vomit.
I’m like a prisoner in my own body;
   I’m blinded by my tears.
I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh;
   My hands are pleading with you to answer.
Do dead people marvel at your miracles?
   Do dead people sing your praises?
Is the sound of your never-ending love heard 6-feet under,
   or your faithfulness in the land of doom?
Can people see your works when it’s dark,
   or your perfections in the land of no memory?
But I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh,
   Every morning I’m confronting you.
Yahweh—why are you pushing me away?
   Why are you hiding from me? Is this a game to you?
My life has been a wreck since I was a kid;
   I’m suffering from your beatings; I can’t stop them.
Your hot anger rips me to shreds like a tornado;
   You’re bomb blitzes are destroying me.
They are drowning me in a raging river all day long;
    I can’t look anywhere without seeing them.
And on top of all this you’ve made my lover and my friends run away from me;
    Darkness is now my only friend.

“So this is what God’s really like.”

This summer, I’m preaching a very short sermon series from the Psalms on praying your emotions. Last week, I preached on Psalm 3, “Pray Your Fears.” In two Sundays, I’ll be preaching from the darkest Psalm, chapter 88, “Pray Your Sadness.”

I’m re-reading parts of a few books as research for the sermon. One book I turned to was C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. It is a tremendous little book about his journey after losing his wife Helen. When I read it the first time, I remember thinking that the book was one of the most raw, honest, yet refreshing books I had read. Essentially, A Grief Observed is the tear-stained pages of Lewis’ journal. I’m thankful his most delicate emotions were put on paper and published.

Listen to this devastating and liberating quote from Lewis in the very first chapter of his book:

[W]here is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’