If you turned your head and looked only at one side of the sky, it was hard to imagine that the other half looked like it did. All the way to the left you’d find a pale blue backdrop with puffy clouds reflecting so much sun that you had to squint even through your sunglasses. All the way to the right you’d find dark gray clouds churning and kicking out thunder and lightning in the distance.
I was in the middle. Where I stood along the line between the two halves of sky, the sun cast a strange fluorescent spotlight over the dune grass and flora. There, the assumptions I usually made about weather patterns had to be thrown out. In my Indiana neighborhood, I’m used to watching the western sky to see what the jet stream is blowing my way. But on the east coast of Florida, the storms came at us from both land and sea.
We would check the weather app at night and by the next morning, the numbers had changed. The forecast didn’t help much anyway. Forty-seven percent chance seemed to have about the same results as seven. Maybe rain, maybe not.
Right before our first storm, the police rolled over the sand and blew the shrill whistle to clear the shore. We had mere seconds to pull the beach umbrella from its foundation in the sand and grab our pails, water bottles, beach reads, and chairs to make a run for it. Sheets of rain blurred our vision. We moved forward in blind trust that we were headed in the right direction.
We were like tiny fish trying to swim out of the mouth of a whale.
These days, we are all faced with our limitations and lack of legitimate control. Uncertainty can be a scary thing, but it can also be a way to grow our character.
It seemed that every couple of days during our week at the beach, we’d get caught in a pop-up deluge. The parking lot flooded up to our ankles. Storm clouds claimed half the sky and kept us second guessing. Sometimes we’d risk going out, and it would rain. Other times we’d stay in and the rain seemed to hold off.
Hundreds of miles south, tropical storm Isaias was thinking about becoming a hurricane and heading our direction. His presence somewhere out there stirred up the waves and made for some great body surfing where we were. More than once, a stray gust of wind launched our umbrella up into the air and sent us running down the beach like we were playing a giant game of lawn darts. Toward the end of the week, with the distant changes in pressure, our low tide became so low that you couldn’t get a kayak out on the salt run.
The weather showed us our place as a small dot on the radar, one tiny part of a much larger whole. The conditions where we planted our feet in the sand were dependent on what was happening elsewhere in the world.
Our AirBnB host kept watching the radar and eventually called to suggest we leave a day early to avoid any inconvenience or danger due to Isaias. Double red flags meant no beach time in the morning, so we visited the lighthouse as our last outing. Winds blew gently as we stood on the deck around the lighthouse beacon and looked out over the clouds and water. Just as we buckled in the car to leave town, the wind picked up and the rain poured.
Over the next two days along the highway home, my daughter (whose weather-related fear has given her a keen interest in storm watching) kept asking me to check the radar. Every time I looked, the red amoeba-like formation was further from shore than before. It had not followed its probable schedule or path; it had not hugged the coast as expected. The place we left had been spared from the full-fledged tropical storm. Had we been foolish to leave early?
In humility, we can leave room for differing viewpoints and let go of the need to be right or to have an airtight plan.
Neither we nor the experts plotting the data in the weather reports could be depended upon to say where or when (or if at all) the weather would hit. We simply looked at the possible outcomes, made our best guess, and acted.
Like my vacation days deciphering storms, the questions and surprises of 2020 have forced me to accept the fact that I am at the mercy of factors far beyond myself. No matter how much I read the reports, the reality is that I just don’t know how things are going to go.
These days, we are all faced with our limitations and lack of legitimate control. Uncertainty can be a scary thing, but it can also be a way to grow our character. It does not have to lead to continual anxiety. It can lead us to the sigh of relief called humility as we remember it is not in ourselves that all things hold together. Uncertainty shows us our need for more dependence on others, and ultimately, on God.
Weird times like this give us a clear perspective of our capabilities, or lack thereof. We gather all the data we can and interpret it the best we can, but in this process, many of us find ourselves at the end of ourselves. We have to admit that we don’t have all the information or education to fully understand the complexities of a pattern of weather or a pandemic. With a humble attitude, we can become more flexible and receptive to new information. We can relax our independence and open ourselves to being led by others with more knowledge or experience.
Uncertainty doesn’t just change our view of ourselves. It allows us to see our leaders’ limitations, too. National doctors, state governors, and local school administrators are sifting through data to minimize risk and maximize public health with the emergence of this new virus. They are working with moving targets and I don’t envy them. With all of the unknowns, we can look to the analysis of smart people while acknowledging that even they are not all-knowing or invincible. (A good leader acknowledges this truth about themselves as well.) As thoughtful people, we can respect a true expert in meteorology or epidemiology and submit to safety protocols while neither bashing the expert nor putting them on a pedestal.
As we all acknowledge our human limitations, uncertainty can (if we’ll let it) act as a pressure valve in our interpersonal relationships. When we all admit that we don’t have definite answers, we can share opinions with an attitude of humility, being open to data or experiences that may challenge our assumptions. In humility, we can leave room for differing viewpoints and let go of the need to be right or to have an airtight plan. Our goal is to foster safety and wellness, not to flex our ego.
I can’t carry the strange combination of my world’s happiness and sadness on my own. I can feel my way through it only by connecting to the God who is both transcendent and immanent, both above it all and near to me and you.
Many of us are coming to terms with the fact that educated guesses are still guesses. But when the outcomes of those best guesses show up in our lives and our newsfeeds, that can lead us to even more difficult questions and concerns.
Scrolling through articles and personal posts, we are audience to the full spectrum of the COVID experience on a daily basis. That much input can make us feel almost like we’re all-knowing. But just because we are aware of an array of experiences doesn’t mean we have the wisdom to deal with it all. The knowledge of good and evil, the full emotion of simultaneous celebration and sorrow, require more understanding and energy than we have in ourselves. We have too much knowledge, and only a little power.
How can I fully rejoice with those who are rejoicing and grieve with those who are grieving at the same exact time?
How can I handle the fact that one week I’m elated with news of recovery for a friend’s husband who was on a ventilator and the next week another friend grieves the passing of her father within days of his diagnosis?
How can I high-five one friend whose business is growing faster than ever in the pandemic while another has lost the family’s primary source of income and is still scrambling to find work?
How can I celebrate the extra family bonding time of my shut-down schedule when all over the nation and world social distancing has made lonely people even lonelier?
I can’t carry the strange combination of my world’s happiness and sadness on my own. It is too much for me. I can feel my way through it only by connecting to the God who is both transcendent and immanent, both above it all and near to me and you.
When forecasts fail and we become tired of human limitations, we can rest in God’s perspective and power.
Our Creator is unflinchingly and lovingly present for the full spectrum of human experience. Tuning in with God allows us to back up and see our circumstance from a wider, more meaningful view. And that allows us to come close and minister in a steady, peaceful way to a variety of friends experiencing very different things.
We aren’t meant to be in communion with a forecast, or a report, or a leader, or an expert; we are meant to be in communion with the transcendent God whose Spirit equips us to navigate a complicated world.
Walking with God, we can observe and enter into both joy and sorrow without feeling like we are losing our equilibrium.
We’re all trying our best to decipher what this pandemic might be doing, where the numbers will go and how it will affect us and our loved ones personally. But we aren’t meant to be in communion with a forecast, or a report, or a leader, or an expert; we are meant to be in communion with the transcendent God whose Spirit equips us to navigate a complicated world.
Some of us may be standing under a clear blue part of the horizon while some of us have dark clouds falling down on us in a deluge. Others of us are right at the center line between sun and gloom and wondering how one sky can hold so many different messages. But no matter the report, when we humble ourselves and lean into God’s shoulder, we come to perceive the world with a less panicky outlook. We can receive the data, and the emotion that it brings, without depending on it for our sanity.
To help us embrace humility and look to God for our peace and provision, I’ve gathered some words for us to pray together.
Below is an excerpt from a prayer for healthcare needs. You can find the entire prayer in your free digital copy of Pandemic Prayerbook.
SUPPLY ALL OUR NEEDS: A PRAYER FOR URGENT HEALTHCARE EQUIPMENT
In the land of plenty, we have found ourselves in need.
We are accustomed to being the hero,
flying in with supplies and help.
We are accustomed to being prepared.
We are not used to coming up short.
Now, even our stockpiles are not enough
But your grace is sufficient for us.
Show your power to be perfect in our weakness.
We are a people of great resolve,
but we are not invincible.
We see our weakness.
We ask you, God, to act on our behalf.
For the lungs that heave.
For the oxygen these patients need.
For your glory and our good.
Move in our leadership, our industry, and our logistics,
and create abundance from our lack.
PRAY WITH US.