The Rush to Return

Do you have that music phase that makes you shake your head?  It’s the one where you shrug to yourself and confess, “No idea what happened there.” Country music was that phase for me.  One song has stayed with me, though: Alabama’s “I’m in a Hurry”.  Their 1992 song made it to #1 and spent 20 weeks on Billboards’ top songs chart.  Maybe you know the refrain:

I’m in a hurry to get things done

O I rush and rush until life’s no fun

All I really got to do is live and die

But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why

Churches in the U.S. have been historically good at rewarding performances delivered with excellence in a hurry.  I’d barely given up my country music phase when I started ministry and hit the ground running.  Hired in March, diplomas hung in my office days after graduation, and off to camp in June.  I hacked off my first invested volunteer in July, tore down a sacred cow that Fall, and got my first raise seven months after being hired.  Performance delivered.  Performance rewarded.

COVID-19’s shelter in place policies, economic devastation, and political polarization have exposed our rush to reward success for what it is – pride and greed.  A pandemic did not however remove the generational sin of equating performance and preparation with discipleship.  The pandemic has laid bare our instinct to rush and rush without knowing our why.

We’re already anticipating re-opening.  

The United States of America is genetically unable to be still.  Sports are scheming ways to play partial seasons.  Retail businesses are asking when they can provide curb-side pickup. The government is rewarding businesses who do everything possible to resist closing their doors.  To be sure, these are helpful economic actions that save jobs and improve lives.

Then there are the churches and faith-based organizations hosting webinars and posting articles about how and when to re-open.  There are months-long plans that assume a return to almost-normal is the goal. There are planning templates making the rounds with dozens of actions we’ll have to take if we are to be ready. Most we’ve seen have neither the name of Jesus nor the implications for discipleship anywhere on them. We’re in a hurry to get things done; we seem unable to stay still.

We’ve placed a starting line and we’re waiting for the gun to go off, even if that metaphorical gun is months away.  To be sure, there are good reasons to be prepared when our buildings re-open.  Spreading the virus because we were under-prepared is a fear many pastors are feeling right now.  Mitigating the risk of infection is a logistical nightmare, but lives are at stake.  Our sanctuaries and our coffee shops and our hospitality desks were designed to create a feeling of intimacy and connection, not social distance.  Churches who fall short in these and countless other COVID-related decisions about their gatherings will face grave consequences. 

However, many infectious disease experts suggest that it will be months until we can safely return to larger gatherings of 50 or more people.  Many pastors we work with do not expect to be able to re-open their buildings until the Fall, at the earliest.  Even when we have the OK to gather, most understand that there will have to be phases of some kind to be fully together again. Yet we seem determined to be ready for that now.  What’s our hurry?

We are rushing not to open our churches or to safely plan their re-opening. We are attempting to manage our grief by managing our imagined future. We grieve our lost sense of control.  We grieve the sudden change in our relationships.  We grieve the life events we are missing.  We grieve an uncertain financial future.  We grieve. Therefore, we are rushing to plan, communicating to our constituents that we’ll be ready to go, and doing every little thing we can in the meantime. 

The soul-care response to our grief is not action.  It is not inaction.  It is courageous stillness and rest in God’s presence. Sitting with our grief, we will be a witness to our anxious culture rather complicit with its anxiety.

Are we ready?  Or resting?

Church leaders: What if you were the last ones in your community to rush into an imagined new “normal”?  What if your church modeled stillness and rest in the face of anxious responses to grief?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a Sabbath from our busy-ness.  It could also be a Sabbath from our incessant need to be ready.  The pandemic invites us to rest.  The ready accessibility of plans to re-open, the discussions about how soon it can happen, and the need to feel confident in what happens three, six, or even eighteen months from now suggests that some among us aren’t resting; we’re only preparing to resume. 

I hear a voice that says I’m running behind

I better pick up my pace it’s a race

O I’m in a hurry to get things done

Are we sacrificing caring for our souls on the altar of readiness?  That has a human cost.  More on that in part 2.

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