Love Waiting in the time of Cholera Coronavirus

I don’t wait well.

You would think after 7 years of infertility–approximately 75 cycles of trying and failing and trying again–I might have mastered this art. But I didn’t. At most, I became relatively competent at looking like I was waiting well. But inside? I was a mess–of anxiety, of obsessing, of controlling, of perseverating over what I couldn’t control. I was often sleepless, disengaged, discouraged. And I definitely mastered the art of eating my feelings. 😉

These are the things I did while I waited, because waiting can be terribly painful, and sitting with pain is nothing short of hell.

I don’t know about you, but for me this quarantine experience has been all about waiting–waiting to see if the virus was going to come to North America, waiting to get deliveries of food and necessary supplies, waiting to see when we’ll be able to leave our house again. I’ve been passing the time haphazardly, sometimes managing my anxiety well so I can be productive and other times hiding in my room to cry because this all feels really overwhelming.

Like many church-going Americans, I attended a Palm Sunday church service online last weekend, and the pastor spoke on a question I hadn’t considered before. Usually, Palm Sunday revolves around celebration; we parade our children, palm branches waving high, around sanctuaries while we’re supposed to think about Jesus as king. Honestly, I’ve never really given Palm Sunday much more thought than that. I don’t come from a particularly liturgical background and have never had a lot of connection to events in the spring church calendar other than Easter. Practically speaking, as an adult Palm Sunday hasn’t registered much more than as a reminder to finish up the Easter basket shopping.

But last week the pastor asked something that made me curious. “Is it wrong to ‘celebrate’ Palm Sunday?”

Why would it be? I wondered. Jesus…coming into the city as king…people excited…where’s the problem?

The people in the passage were celebrating, the pastor explained, without knowing what would happen next. But we have the benefit of hindsight. We know what comes next in the story. We know that mere days later, the story isn’t one of celebration but of brutal torture and suffering, and eventually, of death. How can we celebrate when we know what’s coming?

I’ve been rolling this around in my head all week. The pastor went on to illustrate why he thinks it’s okay to hold both celebration and sadness in the same story, and I appreciated his perspective. I don’t fault the people of Jerusalem for celebrating; they just didn’t know. But the part I can’t stop thinking about is Jesus. Jesus knew. Jesus got on that donkey, rode into town, let the people have their exuberance and their triumph, all the while knowing that his time was coming.

Which reminded me of coronavirus, of these present times, and what the Surgeon General said last weekend on Chris Wallace. “…This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 911 moment.” He told us that the worst was coming, that the horizon held pain, suffering, and grieving hearts, and all we could do was wait for it to pass.

I wondered: what did Jesus do while he waited, all the while aware of the full scope of the suffering that lay in front of him? Maybe I, as a self-proclaimed despiser of waiting, could learn something from this. Maybe what Jesus did during the waiting offers some path through or comfort during this waiting part of the coronavirus journey.  I looked back through the various accounts of the time between the palms and the crucifixion and made a (not exhaustive) list.  Here are some of the things that jumped out at me:

Jesus had feelings. He didn’t keep them all numbed up with food or busyness or distraction. I’m guessing he maybe didn’t have a secret stash of peanut m&m’s hidden in his pantry that he ate surreptitiously when no one was watching. || “Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple…He told the dove merchants, ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!'” John 2:15-17

Jesus ate. I’m guessing not the quarantine levels of food some of us are currently eating? He ate what was available and nourishing (figs). || “As thy left Bethany the next day, he was hungry.” Mark 11:12

Jesus taught, which was his regular gig. || “From then on he taught each day in the Temple.” John 19:47 and a host of other stories (see Matthew 21-23 for examples)

Jesus told others to respect the very government that was about to torture him. || “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” March 12:17

Jesus served others. || “[Jesus] got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.” John 13:4-5

Jesus comforted his disciples before they even knew they’d need the comfort. || “I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in y kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.” Luke 22:27-30

Jesus instituted communion and established a memorial touchpoint. || “When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, ‘You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we ll eat it together in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22:14-16

Jesus withdrew to pray. || “They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.'” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, ‘I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.’ Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: ‘Papa, Father, you can–can’t you?–get me out of this. Take this cup away from me.” Mark 14:32-35

Jesus remembered history and celebrated the cultural feast of the time. || “The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, ‘Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.'” Luke 22:7-8

Jesus pleaded for relief. || “He pulled away from the about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?’ At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He pryed on all the harder. Sweat, wring from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.” Luke 22:41-44

And then Jesus suffered and died.

Of course, there’s more to the Easter story than that, just like I have confidence Coronavirus isn’t going to end with the complete and utter destruction of humanity. But that doesn’t change how hard it is to wait, how many varied and real worries we all carry, how we take feeble steps toward the future not knowing if we’re making the best choices to protect the people we love.

And this, in some respects, is the “easy” waiting. Sometimes I feel guilty for being stressed because my situation is arguably one of the esy ones. There are thousands of people sitting in quarantine this minute after a potential exposure, waiting to see if they fall ill and–if they do–if they’ll survive. There are loved ones waiting desperately for a phone call in which an exhausted nurse provides an update on their sick parent/sibling/child/friend. There are bone-weary medical professionals longing for the day they can simply go home and hug their family without fear or having to undertake drastic decontamination procedures. And there are grievers waiting for the red tape to be managed and the personnel to be available so they can lay their deceased loved one to rest.

There is so much waiting.

But I decided that it might be a worthwhile exercise for me to try to model my waiting a little more like Jesus handled his. Granted, I’m under no illusions that I’m going to achieve “God of the Universe” levels of crisis management, but could I, perhaps, stay more present? Jesus did his regular things in his regular life. He ate. He taught. He spent time with his friends. (Maybe we don’t do that one yet…#stayathome) Rather than letting my mind run a constant loop on the hamster wheel of worst-case scenarios, could I simply be where I am? With whom I with? Doing the next right thing in front of me?

Or maybe I can work toward accepting my feelings, the good ones AND the bad. Jesus was mad, excited, and full of dread at different times while he waited. He didn’t shy away from his feelings. I often find myself numbing uncomfortable feelings. In counseling, I’ve been working on just letting them BE. They’re part of me. They serve a purpose and bear a message. And like Brene Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” When the time comes, I want to be ready to celebrate and hug and rejoice with my whole heart, and part of being able to do that means I won’t have numbed and ignored all the difficult feelings I have right now.

I think the USA shines when it comes to helping others in times of crisis–look at all the people donating PPE, sewing masks, sharing food with neighbors, spreading rainbows. It’s a no-brainer to help others while we wait. But I was especially interested one of the examples in the passages I read when Jesus preemptively created a “memorial stone” experience for his disciples with the first communion. “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Did they even understand? I’m guessing no since a few minutes later they appeared to be squabbling with each other like my children in quarantine. But maybe there are some purposeful things I can establish now that will help my children (or even my family and loved ones) in years to come–traditions, frameworks of understanding, etc. I’m thinking a lot on this because there’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind you that time is fleeting and life is fragile and you shouldn’t let the important things go undone or unsaid.

I also love the example Jesus set of taking care of ourselves. Jesus, for instance, withdrew into the garden to pray. It reminds me that even withdrawing to the van in my garage for a moment of silence (and chocolate?) can be a good and holy thing.

I’m hoping these things help me wait with more ease. Maybe something here will spark an idea in you, too. How are you moving through this season of waiting? Happy Easter, friends! And countless prayers for all the workers on the front lines, as well as those fighting the ultimate battle against the virus. <3

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  1. Another great heart-writing, thought- provoking!!And love the pictures too!!

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