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Hitting the Wall

• David Morrow

In the midst of the pandemic, many of us are experiencing a degree of intense anxiety. What do we do with that? How do we meet God in that experience? How do we find hope?

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During this time of quarantine and social distancing, many of us are hitting a wall. We find ourselves so exasperated from this experience that we are constantly wondering if it will ever end. From needing a haircut, to getting bored with Netflix, to endless Zoom meetings. Or maybe you’ve lost a job or know someone who is terribly sick – or worse. We are feeling something that we have never felt before. In this sermon, David shares how he and his family have been experiencing “hitting the wall” and how God meets us in that place.

In large part, the underlying source of what we feel is rooted in an anxiety of the unknown. David shares the painting by Edvard Munch entitled “The Scream,” which is an expressionist representation of our own and nature’s anxiety, and sense of loneliness in the midst of a world that is crying out for relief. When we recognize this reality, we must ask how we get from anxiety to a sense of hope?

To answer this question, we must recognize that we are living in the midst of an in-between space, what is called liminality. This is the experience of ambiguity – of no longer being in a place that we know from the past, but not yet being where we will be in the future. Richard Rohr defines it this way: “Liminal space, or the place of waiting, is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

The Israelites experienced this during periods of exile – through the wilderness time after Egypt, and the Babylonian exile. Jesus experienced it in the wilderness. It is the NOW and NOT YET world we live in now between the cross and the reconciliation and redemption of all things. It is these in-between times where God has a track record of doing some of his most profound work.

During this liminality we are tempted to either numb ourselves to what we are feeling or to seek out overly-simplistic solutions. When we reject the dual temptations to withdraw and hide out (numb) OR to listen to simple answer to complex issues, we are given the opportunity for a third option: the opportunity to lament. The danger in not allowing ourselves to lament is that we can become numb to the word of God in the midst of the pain. To lament is to express our cry to God regarding what has been lost.

We see this in the book of Lamentations. It is a funeral service for the experience of exile – of liminality. There are a couple of verses found in this book that are especially appropriate for our current experience. For instance, Lamentations 3:17 says, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.” And consider Lamentations 5:8: “We get our bread at the peril of our lives.”

The form of Lamentations is an acrostic, often used to facilitate memory, but here it is used to guarantee that the grief and despair are expressed completely. It arranges our grief, patiently going over the ground of grief step by step, requiring us to stay focused on the detail of the suffering.

Eugene Peterson writes, “The biblical revelation neither explains nor eliminates suffering. It shows, rather, God entering into the life of suffering humanity, accepting and sharing the suffering …. The suffering is there, and where the sufferer is, God is.”

We could stop at lament, but God is calling us beyond lament to hope. Sometimes we fail to hope because we have so long put our hope in the wrong things, and then we want nothing to do with hope at all. Hope doesn’t mean our problems go away. It doesn’t mean we get back to the old normal. It doesn’t mean we slide back into former routines. Hope shows up after and in the midst of the lament. We see this in the middle of Lamentations:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him; (Lamentations 3:22-25)

We are called to be a people to walk through the lament and in the midst of that, find hope beyond it. This benediction is a blessing for finding hope:

Stay (A Blessing for Ascension)

by Jan Richardson

I know how your mind
rushes ahead
trying to fathom
what could follow this.
What will you do,
where will you go,
how will you live?
You will want
to outrun the grief.
You will want
to keep turning toward
the horizon,
watching for what was lost
to come back,
to return to you
and never leave again.
For now
hear me when I say
all you need to do
is to still yourself
is to turn toward one another
is to stay.
Wait
and see what comes
to fill
the gaping hole
in your chest.
Wait with your hands open
to receive what could never come
except to what is empty
and hollow.
You cannot know it now,
cannot even imagine
what lies ahead,
but I tell you
the day is coming
when breath will
fill your lungs
as it never has before
and with your own ears
you will hear words
coming to you new
and startling.
You will dream dreams
and you will see the world
ablaze with blessing.
Wait for it.
Still yourself.
Stay.

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Topics: Hope, Pain & Suffering


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Focus Scripture:

  • Lamentations 3:22-25

    Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

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"I have battled anxiety for years, searching for something to help me overcome fear. I believe that through your sermons, I have found truth and I am more convinced of the extravagant love of God than ever. I finally feel like I am on the journey out of the darkness."

– Amanda, from Nebraska