Every email to my children’s teachers the first three weeks of quarantine began with an apology.
Sorry that this reply is late.
Sorry, we have not done any of the assignments you kindly sent out.
Sorry, we missed that online class meeting, it totally escaped our calendars and memories.
Our teachers, Beloved Creatures of the Most Holy One, have been nothing but kind. Their assurances echoed through my computer, trying to edge their way into my brain and heart with their grace. “Do what you can. Don’t worry about it. It’s all okay. We are here to help in helpful ways to you.”
Yet the guilt still stands.
I recall crying one afternoon on a Zoom call for work, grateful for the foreknowledge of the ‘mute’ and ‘stop video’ functions. I showed up to the meeting half an hour late, thanking my stars that the group was so large that perhaps my delinquency would be overlooked.
I cried because I felt like I was half-assing every factor in my life: my children, my church, my relationships with our family and friends in drastically different spaces (geographically and metaphorically) than we were, our community support efforts, my own prayer life.
I cried that afternoon because I usually do things fairly well—maybe not in any extraordinary manner, but competently and productively. But three weeks into this isolation, all that was broken down; I was deep in the mire of humility and exhaustion.
I find grace challenging under the best of circumstances, and we are not in those right now. And yet, grace is what I found.
As I wrote apology note after apology note—to teachers, therapists, colleagues, family members, missed appointments—I gasped out a fraught breath of prayer. The ‘I can’t do this by myself’ kind of prayer. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t from the Book of Common Prayer. It was barely the type of prayer we teach our kids in Sunday School. And the words came back to me in full force, changing my repeated ‘I’m sorrys’ to God into ‘Thank yous’.
Thank you for the grace of presently healthy partners and children. Thank you for the gift of shelter. Thank you for the gift of a running fridge, working stove and an oven to cook chicken nuggets. Thank you for sidewalk chalk. Thank you, God, for Zoom (author’s note: I fully reserve the right to change my mind on this one).
Thank you for family members who sew and mail masks along with packets of yeast when there are none to be found. Thank you for gracious and creative teachers. Thank you for hair detangling spray and Target pickup. Thank you, God, for soup and grilled cheese because that might be the closest thing to the holy sacrament that I’ve found in these past weeks.
Thank you for children who won’t let grief or fear rule their imaginations. Thank you, God, for surprise villages who offer to pick up your items at the market because they are already there, and who lend scooters then wave from their driveways we ride by.
Thank you, God, for the grace of colleagues, the grace of teachers, the grace and compassion of friends and family.
Our tradition defines grace as “God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills” (the Book of Common Prayer Outline of the Faith, p. 858). We are called to confession, to reconciliation with God, with our ‘I’m sorrys’—but stopping there denies the grace of God to claim us and our hearts. It would be like spending a whole life at Good Friday, and never getting to Easter Sunday.
God’s grace reminds us that we are imperfect, and yet we are loved. That love doesn’t rest on timely email responses or the untangled hair of children.
Since that moment of prayer, I still runn late to meetings, still yell at my children, half-ass an impossible situation, and enjoy the occasional cry session during a Zoom meeting (still with my camera turned off—I’m not yet ready to be that transparent). But my emails to teachers telling them that we are four days behind now begin with ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for your willingness to work with us. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for understanding that we lost track of time.
‘I’m sorry’ has its place. But, so does grace. I’m erring this season on the side of God’s grace to me, and through me, to the community. Maybe it will take hold. Maybe it will be a word of hope to the teacher who also cried off camera in Zoom sessions or the masked Target employee running purchases to my car or my daughter navigating grief and change. And God willing, with weeks or months of it ahead of us, I pray that it will become second nature.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Pexels]