“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Each afternoon, I receive an email with our in-patient COVID census. Marching through Lent, I watch the numbers slowly trickle down. The pandemic is still with us, but I exhale part of the pent-up dread that we will face ICU and intermediate care numbers in the triple digits again this year. The exhale stops short of actually clearing my lungs, since there will always be a part of me that expects the worst to happen again.
In our parish community, we work together, though still apart, to be a space of welcome. Requiring physical distance and perceiving a warm smile behind a surgical mask are new talents to master. A quick glance around the sanctuary leaves me unsettled and wishing for familiarity. After a few minutes, the unsettled feeling is replaced with increasing frustration, perhaps even masquerading as anger.
Why did our hallowed spaces become another reservoir for anxiety? Why did our sanctuary lose its peace for me, only to become another space where my health care provider brain won’t shut off? What was once precious, not only to myself, but also to my children, is now tainted with the trauma of the outside world. It really didn’t seem fair.
What do we do when we, as a congregation, as a community, as a world, are truly exhausted and need the rest Jesus promises? Is that space still in the sanctuary? Or are we meant to seek peace away from our community as we heal?
The deeper question I keep asking is less tidy. Maybe this unsettled feeling was a question of trust. I couldn’t truly pinpoint the question of trust in what or whom: Was I lacking trust in myself, trust in my community, or trust in God?
Maybe I had lost trust in all three.
The always familiar mom-guilt set in. How I walk through this time of doubt may influence my daughters’ walks with the Lord. On the list of parenting tasks not to screw up, this might need to land near the top.
Throughout almost thirteen years of parenthood, our church’s sanctuary has been my place of peace. I recall bouncing my tiny ones next to the organ pipes, under the gaze of our ushers, whose babies were then the acolytes at the front. I’ve chased wiggling toddlers, eager to grab the “best” busy bag from the rack. I’ve shared pews with my favorite people, as we wrap up a week of vacation Bible school, all the while contemplating if a single pew could hold our combined eight children.
Is the pandemic trauma going to be my constant companion? Is the anxiety transferring to my children? Am I just frustrated that our peaceful sanctuary has become another place to gather COVID exposures?
How could I model a peace that surpasses understanding to my children while still recovering from the trauma of the past two years? While our trauma is minimal compared to others, I still struggle with the grand exodus of providers from the health care field, coupled with the pain and suffering of our neighbors.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
I take solace in the words of Paul to the Ephesians. While I continue working to rebuild trust, I am offered peace knowing that God is working in our hearts. It is vital to teach my children that this peace extends to them, wherever they are in their walk with Christ. The great cloud of witnesses surrounding them continues to hold them up, whether inside or outside the sanctuary.
I anticipate with longing the day when I will sit, mask-free, and fully exhale in the hallowed space I love. In the interim, I’ll work to demonstrate to my daughters God’s sanctuary that lies within each of us, regardless of what the world puts in our path.