The Bittersweet Place of Hope

March 21, 2020 | Written by Kendra Matheny

I sit to write as I do every Friday. But, instead of my normal Friday morning surroundings, a hidden gem of a coffee shop that gives me safe space to gather my weekly thoughts, I’m sitting in my apartment with a carryout order from them, instead.

I am enjoying my first day off in a week from my job at a grocery store. The front lines.

Okay, sooo I am not on the front lines, front lines. I am not a medical professional who is facing the panic ER and doctor visits. I am not having to make those hard decisions about who gets told to go home, who gets tested, and in some countries, who gets treated at all. I’m not knowingly in constant shared space with those scared they have the virus.

But I am on the front lines of social interaction and panic.

And I am weathered.

Nothing has been the same. In my store, we haven’t known what is being sent or when it will arrive from the warehouse or what products are even available. This has caused much distress to customers. We’ve also been cleaning things to the point of feeling insane about it, one evening wiping every single cart by hand. And all the while, trying to stay positive and to keep each other’s heads up.

Once upon a time, I wanted to do something in missions. I know my main love language is acts of service. So, why wouldn’t I put that to use? But, as a single parent, I was limited in what I could do, where I could go. So, I put it on hold and figured some day I would go serve.

I think in all of that searching for missions, I was making a common mistake.

Sometimes we get lost in this idea of helping others in far places and lose site of who we can help in our immediate vicinity. I was ready to go wherever God wanted me to go. But, he already had me where he wanted me to be. 

I decided when I stopped searching missionary groups, that my store was my mission field. I may not be digging wells, planting churches, or building schools, but God would use who I am where I am. I would love others in the ordinary, the busy, the everyday. I did that for 5 1/2 years.

Then…. all of this happened. It quickly turned from that to serving in a very hard place.

I am now standing with people in their fear, panic, worry, and in some cases, loss.

I have had to let some people’s anger and attack roll off my back. That stuff isn’t about me, as hard as it feels sometimes. But, I use my register time to ask some real questions: “How are you really, in all this? How is this affecting you?”

I’ve given people a place to speak, if needed. And in doing so, I’ve had some really connecting conversations:

Job loss.
Spouses stuck in other counties with travel bans.
Neighbors working together to get those most at risk the things they need.
Fear of loved ones far away getting infected and not being able to go to them or stop them going out to the store.
Sharing tips on making the most of our time and pantry.

Plans and exchanging info on how to support local businesses and those who are facing shutdowns.
God’s goodness and how we are all in this together.

The list goes on.

I’ve left work every day with emotions in this bittersweet place of hope and connection in pain.

I know we are all on edge. Fear digs it’s dirty claws into us at night, in our quiet places, and especially in the loud, people-filled spaces. Uncertainty seems to cover everything. I want to just throw scripture at it, pretending that is all we need.

“Don’t live in a spirit of fear.” BOOM. Done. Move on.

But, that is not how things work, how people work.

Now, scripture is vital. It is a weapon, a refuge, and a reminder.

It’s just not meant to sweep away real problems and challenges, causing us to not act or face them. Let’s not ignore the dangers and work towards a solution. And lets face the uncertainty and scary together, in community, however separated, with support, hope, and love.

God is absolutely good and is working for everyone’s good at all times. This is a particularly hard place the world is in, but I do see the light peeking through, showing pieces of what I think God is doing.

Here is the hope and good I see from this doomsday movie of a world situation:

  1. Points of reference to connect with those who have faced hardship, fear, and loss.
  2. The world is in a place of vulnerable solidarity together.
  3. We are having to walk in others’ shoes. People are trading places or experiencing things they normally don’t in order to keep things sort of functioning.
  4. We are forced to connect now. Yes, we are physically separated, but it is giving us the space for heart connection. The busy junk of life is mostly shut down and out of the way. We are having to actually TALK to and focus on each other instead of our To Do list.

God is working on softening hearts, deepening connections, and instilling understanding.

I think the interpersonal connections formed by all of this will be beautiful. We are seeing how necessary it is for real connection, not of the busy passing sort, but vulnerable, real connection, which is so vital for who we are and who God created us all to be.

Don’t lose hope. We will come out on the other side of this with a better understanding of “We are all in this together” because we are. And we always were.

Okay, now I’ll throw some scripture at it. Specifically scripture that involves a letter written to friends in a time of hard separation:

Philippians 4 The Message (MSG)

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

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