Ironically enough, it was almost a year ago that I wrote a blog post about a particularly difficult time in the Auburn community titled "Good Grief." Last summer, the city of Auburn lost its first police officer in the line of duty as well as Rod and Paula Bramblett only days before Memorial Day. It's an aching reminder that loss and sorrow can take many forms, manifesting themselves into things you never imagined as sources of pain. By this time last year, no one thought that the streets that were once lined with people for the funerals of our loved ones would be vacant with signs saying "closed until further notice."
I have never felt worse for our leadership at both the local and federal levels. For every closed business, there is a family if not multiple families that are going without a paycheck during a time when no one is hiring. On the other hand, every establishment that opens is vulnerable for a massive spread of the virus. As badly as I want my children to go back to school in the fall, I am reminded of the hundreds of children that have died from the disease. As badly as I want to focus on the recovery cases, I could not imagine being the reason a newborn baby or an elderly person became ill. Regardless of where you stand, let's all remember that we are to "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3). Of all the ways Paul could have described the indicator of the Holy Spirit, unity was the word of choice. As Paul preached the gospel and continued to write the New Testament, he continuously talked about unity. He described a world that lived free from religion ruling the church because it breathed through the price that could only be paid by Christ. He didn't mean we would always agree or we would think the same thoughts. He described a place where our differences would not divide us because Christ came for all. Peace and unity are not possible without "bearing with each other in love." Division begins when we decide to put love aside because someone disagrees with us. Christ said we would be recognized by our unity. Would he recognize us now?
This message of peace and love regrettably comes from the same person that can fall into the division. Sometimes ingesting just five minutes of the news is enough to ruin my day. It douses my compassion for one group of people while overly victimizing another. Where is the unity in that? Again, would Christ recognize me?
There is unity in loss. When I wrote about the grief of our community almost a year ago, I assumed the unity I observed was an exclusive trait of the wonderful people in my city. Now, I am convinced that some of the world's strongest bonds were born in suffering. Suffering, if used rather than just endured, has an ironic effect. What seems like a recipe for isolation, depression, and forfeit becomes an enlightenment for those that are determined to use their suffering. It not only opens our eyes, but it commands that we look around. And while we are experiencing our own suffering, we are more compelled to help and try and show up because we notice the suffering of others.
What we can trust about this season is that everyone experienced loss in some way. Some people lost a loved one, some people lost their income, some people haven't seen their family in months. My household has been so fortunate to have remained healthy and financially stable during this quarantine. Thus, our loss didn't come until our oldest daughter completed her last day of kindergarten. She has cried more than once about not getting to finish kindergarten with her teacher and her friends. The "last day of school" picture, the popsicle party, and tiny caps and gowns will forever be put aside for the kindergarteners of 2020 and to a six year old, that hurts a lot, even if it doesn't compare to anyone else's experience. I hate that I can't promise her that this chunk of life will be celebrated at a later date. I hate that I have to tell her she just doesn't get to do it. So, as her parent, I have to create a space for her to mourn.
Let's be unified in letting people mourn without entering the hardship olympics. A person that simply goes through suffering does their best to revert attention and affection back on themselves. A person that wants to use their suffering for good not only remembers the comfort we have in Christ, but remembers our responsibility to help those who suffer alongside us.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
What good is comfort if we don't pass it along? What good are we if our suffering isolates us? Just reading the challenge in the last two sentences probably sounds exhausting for most people but the answer to those questions not only serves as the path to a tribe of people that understand our loss, but I would also dare to say that it will point us toward a life of either sin or salvation for ourselves. Isolated sorrow is a dark, desolate place. It leads to shame, bad coping mechanisms, and the feeling that nothing matters. Sorrow free of comparison or coaching alongside a friend is good mourning. It's a centering place that can keep us from swirling in the vertigo of the uncontrollables. A mourning that is important because unprocessed disappointment ignites a cycle of lifelong dysfunction.
Make no mistake, there are more opportunities for division ahead. Some people will choose to go out and some will choose to stay in. Some states will open and some will remain closed. For some it's worth the risk, for some it's not. There's no way to know the intent of others and it's completely against our culture to resist speculating, but if we assume that everyone is responding to loss, then both positive and negative behavior might make a little more sense. Let it control how we pray, so we can also control how we feel-- which is possibly the most important skill we could obtain right now. That begins with healthy mourning of not only what is, but what could have been. Can I tell you something? When we lay things at the foot of the cross, God expects us to shed a few tears. What we can't do is choose to carry the hurt and disappointment of today into the sunrise of the day without COVID-19. Those that haven't taken the chance to mourn and let go will live in fear, make decisions out of bitterness, and distance themselves from the ones they love long after the virus is gone, forever preparing themselves for the next big loss.
Maybe that's the story behind the frantic lady at the store or the mean guy at the gas station. They haven't discovered the healing power of a community that's battling the same way they are. In the unattractive climate of their attitude, let's make sure they can recognize the church: people that may not have the same exit strategy to COVID-19, but love each other nonetheless.