Note: This is not a “call for help,” but a hope that honesty gives us permission to admit again that this is hard.
“Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (John 21:17 – 19)
The lockdown is growing old on me.
Some people are no doubt energized by the crisis, whether wired from before birth to thrive on chaos and infinite learning curves, or conditioned by experience for emotional flexibility. But I am tired.
Not tired of doing my part in public health, not tired of loving my neighbor, not tired of sitting with God to work on what remains within the four walls of my home or office or mind.
I find the experience that gives me more time in hours takes much more time in mental digestion. I am stressed.
I’ve tried to preach to people through a camera, yet with only an electronic eye and no sentience to see reached in the moment, is it still really preaching? I heard once of a preacher trained by his mentor to preach to the cows in the field near his home. Study the text, craft a worthy soliloquy to echo God’s words, and then lay it down on those bovines, with conviction, reverend! The cows would move but not be moved, their eyes noticing a presence, but seeing and never perceiving the imminent danger to their eternal destiny. If you can preach to large ruminants week after week, the thinking goes, then you can pastor church members who would also contentedly chew the cud, seeing and never perceiving. I’ve had people offer to come and sit four pews apart to fill the need. I prefer to fill and be filled by the people. Preaching is an exchange. We’re not us until we’re together.
I’m sapped by online meetings that allow good work to continue at the cost of breathing the same air with those I’m working with. So many video calls tax me (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting). We can’t feel the overactive furnace together, nor the need for a cookie break.
I’m getting a peanut-butter chocolate one from the church stash right now, since no one else is here to eat them. Or, at least, those immaterial ghosts that are other humans at a distance aren’t eating them. Maybe they don’t know about the cookies. Well. I’m not telling them.
The lockdown is growing old on me.
And I wanted to hug my dad on his birthday.
II. Uncertain Long-term Mental Effects
The lockdown is dating me.
After this is all over, there will be the demarcation of people who remember and those who do not. Social distancing will date us. Decades away, some school kid named Jimmy will come knocking fearfully on old Rev. Roels’ door to ask a few questions for his report on the Time of the Coronavirus. I’ll feed him cookies. Peanut-butter chocolate ones.
“So, Mr. Roels, um… what was it like?”
“Slow and boring. The exciting things tended to be when toilet paper showed up in aisle six. Then it was a spectator sport because people fought invisibly, for fear of contact, as if encased in plastic bubbles and unable to do anything but bounce each other away, arms flailing. But that opened up opportunities for the hygiene vultures.”
“They developed their cult in the second wave. They circled ‘round the essential stores at all hours, necks bent with opportunistic lust to snap their beaks on the new skid of a crucial item arriving on the next truck, rumored at 9:17 pm. They learned to sleep without losing consciousness, but suffered mass hallucinations.”
“For toilet paper?”
“Paper towels. Baby wipes. Bread. Milk. Beef. Early on, there was plenty of food. Right up until the great August buffalo roam swept through the Heartland and liberated all the livestock. They’d been planning it for centuries.”
“So that’s why we kids have that government man come to school and teach the…”
“That’s right. Never thought you’d have to put down a mammal rebellion, did you, Jimmy?”
“No, Rev. Roels. I never realized…”
“That’s why you gotta watch their eyes, Jimmy, their eyes!”
“Uh-huh. My mom told me not to ask about the buffalo. But didn’t the vaccine get things back to normal?”
“Normal? Some people went crazy with loneliness. Others contracted mutant forms of the virus, and, some said, became symbionts. Mr. Cortez, your next-door neighbor, told me just yesterday that he saw one the other night, creeping around your bathroom window, smelling the air, probably for alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You gotta put out traps, Jimmy, or else they… (yawn) Well, I’m about tired out. Got what you need for your report?”
I plan to get plenty of mileage out of all this.
The lockdown is dating me, and I think I’m growing more dated all the time.
The lockdown is aging me.
If aging is a process of being forced to accept those things we cannot control, and forced to accept that we now control even fewer things than we once did, then we are all growing older faster than the days.
It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.
The Apostle Peter’s last journey is said to have been to a cross of his own. By the end, he was not permitted to dress himself or choose his own way. And time did that. Every passing day after Jesus’ words brought Peter closer to eventual fulfillment of those words and the final surrendering of control that would mimic his Lord.
Peter’s cross is so much more than anything I’ve been asked to carry. If my privileged problems of feeling confined in a four-bedroom home are any indication, it’s probably time to toughen up with a little Perspective. Maybe I’ll collect enough energy for that later.
But there is something that all Christians share here after Easter. Jesus, our Savior and guide, gave His Will to match the Father’s Will, and that meant loss of control over His own life.
Every Christian now hears the call to “follow Him:” to give up their own dreams for life in exchange for God’s adventure, to surrender self for being made in the image of God, to hand over all our glories and trophies and pride for humility and service. It sounds like loss of control is a defining characteristic of the post-resurrection reality. That doesn’t mean we’re out of control, but that we’re under the guiding hand of the Spirit, our other counselor.
And this way of living is how we glorify God. That helps put even possibly-unhinged blog posts in perspective. Lament has its place. Loony humor, too. But what if we take the loss of control that we all feel and made it work for following Christ? We could then not merely cope with the loss, but understand it, and therefore give it meaning, as one step forward in surrendering our will to God. That would be a redemptive move, and bright in its mimicry of Christ. It would be to age gloriously into whatever future God has for us.
This is the Day the Lord has made; we stubbornly rejoice in it. God is good, so there.
And such Days as these are practice for the big reveal at the end. For, you know, The Day, when who we’re meant to be is finally revealed. Meanwhile, this Day can show us more of ourselves now, if we are wise.
The lockdown is aging me closer to what must be and what must be welcomed.
IV. For the Time Being
The lockdown is maturing me.
Not at every moment, of course, like when I morphed into a real ornery cuss two weekends ago. My verbal filters also seem to have more and bigger holes in them. Good thing no one is able to invite me over for dinner and ask how I like the thing in the casserole dish, recrudescently simmering.
But times of prayer have brought me to slim moments of self-awareness that I could stop complaining and work on the thing most available to be worked on: me. How are my responses affecting others? What are you doing in me now, God? Can I make my peace with being able to do less, despite having more time, and shift rest from in my competence to God’s Providence? Will I accept for myself that forced Sabbath may be good for so many who never otherwise take it, let alone for God’s world run ragged by The Economy? How can I get space when my usual spaces for doing so are shut? Does my lack of skill in this crisis expose that it would be of great benefit to become more dependent on God?
I need these changes. I always have. The isolation strips away the insulation. My human limits, once blurred by activity, now firm up smaller, but more honest, than I would like, and I must go again to Him who is without limits.
The lockdown is maturing.