Updated: Dec 2, 2020
I have been watching the rising number of daily infections of the coronavirus across the country, and now in our city, with a dread that feels far away. It’s been so many months of anxiety-inducing news and suffering that seems like it will never end, I feel unable to face the possibility that all of this might get worse before it gets better. I feel past the point of overwhelmed. I feel like I just want to walk away, but there isn't really anywhere to go. Maybe then I think I can, ostrich-like, just bury my head and disengage.
When I was young, I visited my mom, who lived in London, every summer. One day we had a train to catch and we were rushing to get to the station to make our departure time. We came up out of the subway at the busiest time of day. I was small and was getting buffeted by elbows and luggage as we made our way to the exit gates that led up into the train station. My mom went through the gate ahead of me, putting her ticket into the reader. The gate closed behind her and she moved on with the wave of humanity.
I put my ticket into the reader but it beeped twice and the gate didn’t open. I put my ticket in again and again. Each time, the same beeping resulted. A desperation rose in my throat. I couldn’t see my mom anymore. I had no idea where I was or how to get back home. I had no idea where she was going. I was surrounded by strangers. I had no money or food or phone. I imagined for a second her disappearing and my being stuck there, completely lost and alone forever. It’s the same feeling that I have right now. Everything feels so dark and so unknowable and in my panic, I just want to go hide and make it all go away.
But on that day so many years ago, I knew that my mom was somewhere just ahead of me and so I did what instinct told me to do. I cried out loud. And when a kindly tube worker who operated the luggage gate noticed and let me through without bothering about my ticket, I went sprinting ahead through the crowds, jostling to make some progress at a faster rate than everyone else. I called out her name. I sprinted up the escalator until, finally, in the enormous airplane-hangar of the station lobby, I spotted her, and ran to go and be held by her. She had noticed just before that I wasn’t there but was unable to get back through the throng to get to me.
What if I really believed right now, today, that I wasn’t alone? That God is there, just ahead of me? That even though everything feels so chaotic and scary, that if I just run ahead, I can hold His (...or Her...or Its) hand?
If I believed that, then I would cry out loud. I would ask for help. I would accept the help that I am given. I would chase after that loving presence. And I wouldn’t rest until I was next to Him (...or Her...or It).
What I wouldn’t do is walk away or disengage. Because I know that God is there, walking in the midst of all that chaos. And I know that’s my place too. To be amongst the hardship. To engage with the suffering. To be the one to open the gate for others who are lost. But if I’m going to be there, then I had better be next to God. Because I can’t survive all of that alone. I need God’s comforting presence to guide me through it. And so today, when I feel like folding, I know that what I have to do instead is everything I can to seek out and grasp God’s hand in the crowd.
Like so many things, I can see this, but I am not very good at doing it. Luckily, I am constantly taught through the example of the people around me. About a week ago, a woman in our community asked for help because she is struggling with high levels of anxiety that are taking hold in the form of an eating disorder. She was so open and honest with her story. She was looking for help from as many people as she could. She was graciously accepting whatever gates were opened for her to keep going, to find the love that she knew, in faith, was there. Instead of giving up or escaping, she was acting like she was not alone in the crowd. She was acting like she just needed to find the love that already existed just ahead, even though she couldn’t see it right then. She was crying out and searching for God and knowing that God was going to respond by being present with her and holding her through all of this hardship.
That’s the kind of faith that we have naturally when we are small children and we are looking for our loving parent. That’s the kind of faith that I want to have right now, the kind of faith that I need to make it through all of the fear and suffering surrounding me. I need to act like I would if I knew I weren't alone and when I do that, then I know I will find God's loving presence to guide me through the chaos.
by Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family Ministry