Reentry: Summer of Grace — Ironies and Leaps of Faith

Irony. I remember learning the literary meaning of irony sitting in my high school English class when dramatic irony held our interest in the classics.  But, in our culture we mostly use irony as a verbal expression that drips from our lips when we say one thing but really mean the opposite.

There is a third definition for irony — when life or a certain situation doesn’t turn out the way we expected. And it feels, somehow, deliberate. 

I find it incredibly ironic that I sit to write the final post of our summer series meant to be all about re-entering the world as the pandemic ebbs beyond view while, in actuality, it’s making a cruel reappearance. My expectations of August have had to adjust.

Such has been our experience over the last eighteen months. Just as we adapt to a “new normal,” we’re forced to readjust — our attitudes, our assumptions, our practices. So. Here we are nearing the end of August 2021, and we are further from true reentry than we were in June. 

What are we to do?

Well, ironically, the answer to that question lies in the theme I’d originally planned for this post: TRUST. I love how God has gone before us with this theme and given us a way forward in our current circumstances.

Pandemic PTSD

Many feelings surface as this new variant dominates air waves and news threads: Disdain. Distrust. Discouragement. Despair. Defeat. Disbelief.

I wonder. How do you feel? 

Depending on our individual experiences since COVID became a household, worldwide reality, our reactions vary: 

  • Those who were nervous about re-entering life too quickly are devastated to have fears proven true.
  • Those who never took the pandemic seriously remain dubious of the new reports of rising numbers. 
  • Those who were on the front lines earlier are overwhelmed and burned out…yet again.
  • Those who lost loved ones despair further loss of life. 
  • Those who have a new label — COVID long-haulers — are just. so. tired.
  • Those who are isolated or high-risk feel the creeping fingers of fear reaching in for the strangle-hold.

Yet, I suspect every single one of us just wants to know, When will this be over?

I have no answer to that question, but I am learning how to navigate this reality of ours. First, it’s good for us to identify the why behind our feelings, to get beyond reflexive emotional reactions to the why am I feeling this way of deeper inward realities. Because when we can put our finger on the why — the motivation or trigger — of our responses, then we can start to deal with the what, those actual feelings.

And then, we can learn how to take those to God.

Laments as a Way to Release and Revere

One category of psalms, lament, make up nearly half of all the psalms in our Bible. They express honest, raw emotions of sorrow, grief, and regret. They plead for God’s help, and they show us how to do the same. Understand, laments are not tantrums but well-crafted expressions of deep emotion that often have three elements: a cry out to God, a plea for help, and a response of trust. While they begin with despair, they almost always end with hope and faith (Jen Wilkin, Psalms study, p. 145).

One such lament, Psalm 13, captures many of the feelings swirling around us as we’re compelled to push pause on our reentry due to the continued pursuit of this viral enemy. I invite you to read this aloud with some real feeling. Make it your lament.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

Psalm 13, NLT

I am learning to lament. Instead of ignoring my emotions or stewing in them, I am discovering ways to dig within myself for a better understanding as to why feelings of discouragement, frustration, and anxiety continually rise up within me. The practice of lamenting and identifying the why behind my feelings frees me to be honest with myself and God, releases the negativity within me, and helps me turn my face back toward God. As a result, my love of Him grows. My hope and faith increase. And I am better able to make the choice to trust Him.

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

Memorization Mediation

Giving my feelings honest release has also opened me up to receive Scriptural intervention. Throughout this pandemic, God has honored my decision to memorize His Word, blessing me with peace when I’ve been tempted to panic, favoring me with great doctors when I struggle with unhappy lungs, bolstering my faith each time frustration and fear have threatened to pull me under.

Most recently, Priscilla Shirer encouraged me (in her Elijah* study) to memorize a section of Psalm 73. I wrote the lines on an index card and put it on my bathroom mirror. I can’t even begin to express how these verses have solidly rooted themselves in my heart. I took the long minutes of breathing treatments, hair drying, and make-up applying to say these words of truth over and over. Now that they’re memorized, I speak them over myself wherever I am, allowing their peace to pour into me.

I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

Psalm 73:23-26, NLT

It never fails that when I get to the line, God remains the strength of my heart, my throat cinches and tears rise because the words reminds me that no matter what I face each day, no matter what this virus does, no matter my emotional reactions, God remains the strength of my heart. He remains. The strength. Of my heart.

And yours.

Worship with His Word

One reason I listen to Christian music so regularly is because many lyrics recount His Word and truths. Those words and phrases I need to hold onto and believe flow through my mind and find places to roost in my heart, not leaving room for thoughts to doubt and feelings to despair.

MercyMe’s new album as a whole has such a variety of messages and musical rhythms that I find myself hitting replay multiple times a day. My favorite song at the moment is “Uh Oh.” It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s classic MercyMe full of deeper truths, wrapped in humor and creativity about someone ready to take a big leap — maybe literally or, better yet, spiritually. There’s a middle section where the sound of the song shifts to something out of the seventies with this powerhouse couplet:

“Until you learn to trust you will not jump”, I’ve always told myself
But from up here it’s clear that trusting is the leap itself” 

MercyMe, “Uh oh”

This toe-tapping tune takes me to a happier place just in the hearing of it. But when I really listen, I take in a much needed truth — until you learn to trust you will not jump. Friends, when I’m not trusting God, I am holding back, and I can hold back in a variety of ways. I can hold back trying new churches. I can hold back reaching out to make new friends. I can hold back submitting another article that I’m sure will be rejected. I can hold back trusting God as pandemic numbers rise.

However, the more I worship God, the better I’m able to surrender myself to Him, to see all the ways I hold back, and to discern when I need to jump. 

But then, the power behind this line: Trusting is the leap itself. This is a revelatory truth for me, a new understanding that many times to trust God IS the leap. Whoa. I’m still soaking this in…

Learning to Leap

Y’all, I wouldn’t know or be able to live out any of this if I weren’t constantly in His Word — reading it or singing it. When I feel like I’m drowning in sadness or pain or hopelessness, I drag myself to His feet and cry for help. I lament and remind myself to do so with hope because I TRUST HIM.  Everyday.

It’s my most sincere prayer that however you’re feeling, or whatever you have going on in your corner of the world, you can find hope and faith and trust in God’s presence and power.

We can trust in His unfailing love. We can put our hope in His strength. Because grace.

There’s so much irony in how God has worked grace into every crevice and corner of my life this summer because I didn’t fully grasp my need of grace. But He did. And He’s been so so good to keep giving it. Like manna every morning. For every curve ball this life throws, His grace always remains. And it’s always enough. Putting our trust in God is the answer we need to the ever-present question, what are we to do? So, our role in these changing and challenging days is to simply take the leap and believe that God remains constant — that He has enough strength and courage and hope for all of us.

Trust is the leap itself.

Lord Jesus, we need You. We feel a mess. Our world looks a mess. Our families, our friendships, they feel messy. We confess our tiredness, our hopelessness, our despair. But we remember, Jesus, that we belong to You. That you take us by the hand and guide us by your counsel and wisdom. We remember Your generous grace and that You remain the strength of our hearts. So we rejoice — even when we don’t feel like it — Lord, we rejoice in who You are because You are our Rescuer, our Savior. You see the enemies we face — invisible viruses, devious demons, and our own broken state. But You are always there, always defending and protecting and strengthening us so that we can be true overcomers by your power. For your glory. For our healing and wholeness. And, for the good of others. Jesus, we claim the grace You offer us, and we trust You. No matter what we see or feel, we. trust. You. It’s in your most holy name we pray, Amen.

Learning to leap, Shelley

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is reentry-helps-header.png
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash, with edits 🙂
  • Oh, the music. I’ve added two songs to our Reentry Playlist: Lauren Daigle’s song “Hold On To Me” and the MercyMe song I mentioned today, “Uh Oh.” There’s also our Grace for the Journey Playlist.
  • In your journal this week list, doodle, draw, or write about your current state of mind and your underlying feelings that motivate your actions and responses. Write a prayer — maybe a lament! — to God that expresses all this, asks for His help, and establishes your hope in Him. Also, what are some practical ways you can build practices into your life as you step into the next season (literally and spiritually) to help you keep seeking God’s grace?
  • #Spreadjoy this week by giving someone a BIG hug, like you really mean it and aren’t afraid of it. If that’s still not something you can do for health reasons, offer love in other ways — a poem, a picture (drawn, painted, taken/photo), a flower (bought or picked), etc. The idea is to love one someone greatly — even if the gesture is small.
  • We will meet back here in two weeks — starting a new series on belonging! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.

Featured Photo by Adam Walker on Unsplash.

*This is an affiliate link, which means I earn a little something with purchases. 🙂 Oh. And I really can’t recommend Priscilla’s Elijah study more. It’s been a huge part of my unpacking and understanding this season of my life and God’s possible purposes in it.

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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