We’re now nineteen months into a worldwide pandemic. In my town in the United States, infections of the Delta variant are beginning to wane, although deaths are on the rise. The hospitals are still operating, there are still a few available beds in the ICUs, schools are open, and for now, will still be wearing masks. Local businesses and agencies, including the hospitals, are requiring the vaccine, and a round of firings just happened—those who refused to vaccinate.
Most white collar workers are still working from home. We have employee shortages in restaurants and shops. Food prices are going up. Housing prices are going way up. Despite a so-called eviction moratorium, I’m supporting several newly evicted folks. There’s no low-income housing to be had. There seem to be more guns-in-school incidents, with one child killed by a gun two weeks ago in a high school.
The economy feels shaky. The supply lines are wonky. Politics here are crazy. The weather is worrisome.
Some churches reopened then closed because of the Delta variant. Some have remained open. But by most accounts, attendance is way down. And, at least at my church, all we’re really doing is worship. No extra programming yet, like Sunday school or coffee hour or potlucks.
Everything just feels so uncertain.
Uncertainty is my least favorite thing. I mean, maybe it’s because I’m an 8 on the enneagram, an ENTJ in MBTI code. I’ve always had control issues. But I think there’s something deeper now, some reckoning with our own mortality, some reckoning with our priorities, and (praise the Lord!) some reckoning with our systems of oppression. We can clearly see the failures modern life, of capitalism, of expecting government to fix things.
My natural response to uncertainty is to become more certain and, frankly, more controlling. It’s not just outwardly controlling (bossy), it’s also inwardly controlling. I become more self-critical, more rigid, and less forgiving of my own foibles. And when I’m tough on myself, I’m likely to be tougher on the people around me. It’s a vicious cycle.
There’s a deeper response to uncertainty, too. I feel like my creativity, my adaptability, my flexibility, they’ve all gone out the window.
What about you? How has the uncertainty of life affected you?
While uncertainty is a political, economic, and communal issue, it is also a spiritual issue.
When faced with spiritual issues, the question I ask myself first is, “When have I been here before?” And if I cannot find the answer to that question, I ask, “Where in the Bible did folks deal with this question?” Truth is, I’ve never been this uncertain in my life. I’ve had uncertain days and weeks, but never years. I’ve had uncertainty in my career, in my love life, in my relationships, but never so much uncertainty over so many parts of my life.
The most uncertain times in the Bible seem to be around the destruction of the Temple. Lamentations 4 tells the story of the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem,
Our eyes failed, ever watching
vainly for help;
we were watching eagerly
for a nation that could not save.
The text seems to imply (if not outright say) that in light of the uncertainty, the violence, and the hunger, the people turned against their own. After this, they were dragged to Babylon, where they grieved but eventually were encouraged to grow gardens, build homes, and to arrange the marriages of their sons and daughters.
In other words, the uncertainty eventually passed. And those words to grow gardens, build homes, and marry your children say to me, “Live your life, even in uncertainty.”
So can we believe that things will not always be so uncertain? And even more, lean into living in the now, rather than waiting for the next?
If we lean into living in the now, can we remind ourselves of the things that make a good life? Things like taking care of daily needs, spending time with loved ones, doing things we enjoy. Routine can mitigate the feelings of uncertainty, and so can pleasure.
Finally, can we reframe this uncertainty, not as a destructive state, but rather a catalyst for the kind of change we need to make in the world? To think of this as the birth pangs of a new world? To see our failing, oppressive systems as invitation to overhaul them? To ultimately, listen to the uncertainty as an invitation to reprioritize our lives and live into hope?
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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One thought on “The Pastoral is Political: Making Friends with Uncertainty”
Thank you for this post. It gave me pause to think, which says quite a bit.