I remember in college I started getting hives seemingly out of nowhere. We never did figure out what caused them. They were mostly on my neck. I assumed I was allergic to my laundry detergent. But maybe it was the stress of dating a Jewish guy I really cared about and going to Campus Crusade Bible study every week where I was told that I had to break up with him.
The hives are back now.
When I go running, I hate to walk. I never stop unless I physically have to. But yesterday I ran two miles to the trailhead up the Bernardsville mountains that go over the hill into Jockey Hollow State Park. I stopped there and walked up the hill (it is almost impossible to run up that anyway), but then I kept walking in the woods. I wanted to slow my heartrate and my thoughts; I was craving calm, and I was willing to do something very unlike me to get it.
I am uneasy right now. I will just admit that. I have never struggled with anxiety (or at least I have been told I have never struggled, but maybe the hives suggest otherwise), but I am anxious now. I want to be brave, but I am scared. I want to do the right thing, but I’m not even sure what that is in my personal life, so it is hard to know what that is in my professional life. Sometimes I feel like I will cry, and other times I know I’ve got this. And it sometimes makes me feel better to think others are feeling the same way, and other times it makes me feel worse to think that we are all struggling. I am unsure of the decisions others will make as well as my own.
I am unsteady right now. I oscillate between knowing I will be okay and freaking out that I am not equipped for something like this. I cannot decide whether it is better to stay on top of the news and be ultra-informed, or to check in once or twice a day (and then I feel guilty knowing I am privileged to even be able to make this choice as others are sick and dying or risking their lives in healthcare, public service and food industries). Sometimes I feel good about the choice to stay home, and sometimes I feel insanely guilty. I am sad about running to the other side of the street when someone is ahead of me; and it makes me more sad when they do not wave hello. I can sleep so far, but I cannot slow down with work and all that needs to be done. I am lonely, but then I am also overwhelmed by constant contact.
I am uncertain right now. Like most of us, I am no scientist or healthcare expert, and I just have to trust the information and the facts, that I am given. In addition to serving as a pastor, I am a math teacher, and I am paralyzed by the fulfillment of the numbers doubling (or more) daily so far. I’m not sure if I am being ridiculous by staying away from friends, family, co-workers and church family, but I do not want to risk being wrong about the statistics. I am not confident about what God is up to or where exactly God is in this. My only real certainty right now is my faith and sure and certain victory over death through the cross of Jesus Christ. I am clinging to Easter — perhaps not in the way that we have celebrated it in the past, but in the Easter promise. And I am praying for those who can’t find anything to cling to because they don’t have (or know) that promise. I don’t know the end of the story when it comes to the implications, the losses of life and health, and the devastations of this virus on our communities, our states, our country, our world. And yet, I have to remind myself to be certain of the words I wrote in my very first statement of faith when I began ministry:
When you know how the story ends, it changes everything. As Christians, we have the privilege of knowing the end of our story — that Jesus will come again in glory and power and we will be reconciled to Christ in the end. Because of this, we are called to live our lives with the end in mind — reconciling ourselves to one another and being part of God’s kingdom that is already here on earth. We are called to live with faith in action — praying, hoping, believing, serving, forgiving, and living into the reconciling work of Christ here on earth.
I may be uneasy, unsteady and uncertain, but I am sure that we are still God’s people. I am sure that however scary it seems right now, God’s kingdom is already here on earth. And so I must still push myself to remain realistic, but hopeful, because the hope of the gospel is eternal, and our God is forever faithful, forever present, forever with us.
Though we are uneasy, unsteady, uncertain, may we be people who pray, hope, believe, serve, forgive and live in the light of the promise that Christ will come again in glory and power and we will be reconciled to Jesus forever.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.