No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the same yawning. I keep on swallowing. C.S. Lewis A Greif Observed
The first line of that quote came rushing to my mind as I walked.
I had walked this path before, but this time it was different. It was the same stretch, past City Park, past ACMS, and in front of houses and an assisted living facility. I walked until I could see the school where I serve. On the surface, it seemed like a normal day, but in my heart, I knew there would be a new normal, one neither I nor my fellow citizens were prepared for.
Our school, like others, was shut down by the government. A silent killer had invaded our land, a virus known as COVID—19. It is a killer only seen after it strikes. It is a killer who causes fear because we are not sure what to fear or how long the fear might last. It is a killer who is systematically shutting down our country, and no one really knows the full and lasting impact it will have on the economy.
As I look out at our school, questions flooded my mind as I contemplated a lost year. What does that mean for our seniors? How we will prepare students to promote to the next grade? Since we believe you get what you earn, we could not promote students without having students earn the promotion, and this killer forced us to ask how.
The questions continue. Will our families and friends lose their jobs? How can we help them if they do? How can we serve people whose lives have been suddenly turned upside down as a people whose lives have all been turned upside down?
Each question felt like a weight added to my shoulders. Each an arrow of fear lodged directly in my heart. And there, standing right on the sidewalk, I wept.
I don’t like to cry. It’s not that there is anything wrong with crying. I am not one of those who believe real men don’t cry. After all, Jesus wept. I don’t like to cry, however, because once I start, I often cannot stop.
So, as the tears began to flow I quickened my pace and headed for the school building, for it seemed like the closest safe place. It felt like fear, but it was a strange sort of fear. There were the same butterflies, but no physical threat. Then, I remembered the quote and knew I wasn’t just crying. I was grieving.
I grieved a lost academic year. I grieved the possibility of not seeing the friends I work with until who knows when. I grieved hard decisions that would surely come. I grieved upset schedules in the days ahead. I grieved the pain I knew many would face. I grieved the strain of trying to finish the race. I grieved, and I cried.
But then . . .
I remembered another quote. I first heard it as one of my dear friends and mentor preached. Mark Harrod was not only one of my basketball coaches; he was also a hero. He is a pastor who has served the same church in Johnson City for over two decades.
For years, I was on the list to receive Sunday messages on tape. (You older folks may need to explain to the younger folks what that is.) It was like Christmas morning every Thursday when I opened the white envelope and listened to my friend preach.
I listened intently as Dr. Harrod preached through 1 Thessalonians. He had reached chapter 4, a chapter that begins with these words, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, that you may not grieve as others do, who have not hope.”
I soaked it in as Mark explained that the concept of biblical hope is more than what we think of when we use the word. When we use the word “hope,” we often think of a wish. I hope it doesn’t rain today, but I am not at all sure. I hope we have steak for supper, but we may have hot dogs. Most of the time when I use the word hope, I am expressing a wish, a wish that may or not come true. I am not sure.
But the biblical work hope, pulsates with confidence. Biblical hope looks forward with a confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do. In the case, of 1 Thessalonians 4, it is a hope that transcends death. For the believer, death is like sleep and hope transcends everything we experience as we live.
In the course of one walk, two quotes changed my life. One from a famous author, helped shape my understanding of my experience. One, from God, helped shape my response to present pain with future hope.
Yes, these days are tough, and the future just may be tougher. We will emerge from this pandemic, but we will emerge different that we were before.
For now, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have not hope.
– Dr. Shane Arnold, Head of School