Even though it is Advent on the near horizon, I feel as if I am caught somewhere between Moses in the wilderness with the people of God and Jesus in the wilderness with his temptations. Last March, I watched as friends and colleagues on the coasts struggled with the number of COVID cases and deaths. The pandemic seemed further away then. Real and scary, though far away from where I live in Minnesota. Now, our hospitals are full and the number of cases keep rising, along with the number of deaths. My worry for my church community, my friends, and my family increases as well. I see the suicide rates and addiction rates climbing and I want to be a voice of hope in the midst of the grief, the fear, the despair.
It helps that there is hope in the political realm, though January seems far away and there is much wilderness to navigate before then. Days are short and night comes early and stays a while. It is hard to find the light of hope in the midst of illness, grief, and fear. Yet, it shines. I know it shines even when I cannot see it because God has guided God’s people through the wilderness before. God guided Moses, Aaron, Miriam and the people of Israel away from Pharaoh and plagues through the wilderness. A pillar of fire led the way. God sent Jesus to a people held captive creating a voice of hope in the cacophony of despair. God has been with God’s people through oppression, through plague, through death, through every kind of wilderness before now. We know that God does not abandon us no matter what we are enduring. There is hope here. There is the promise of new life here. There is the assurance of God’s love here.
If you are doing okay in this moment, check on those you know. Check in on parents who are struggling to balance working and school from home. Check on elders who don’t find technology easy to use. Check on single people whose sense of isolation is increasing. Check on young adults and teens who feel the separation from friends and family very deeply. Check on neighbors you know well and neighbors you don’t know so well. If you are struggling in this moment, please be honest with anyone who might ask how you are doing. We can hold hope for one another. If you or someone you check on is struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is help available. Many communities have local numbers to call and there is the national number – 1-800-273-8255. You can call this number if you don’t know how to help someone is who is suicidal as well. If calling is uncomfortable for you, you can text: HOME to 741741.
We are all in the wilderness, though some of us have more resources to share than others. We cannot get through this season without one another. Those of us who have more resources have a responsibility to help out those with fewer. In the moments when we are not overwhelmed by all that is happening, we have a responsibility to reach out to others. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be an email, a text, a phone call, a note and plate of cookies left on a doorstep. Tell the people you love how important they are to you. You never know whose life will be saved by that reminder of their value.
The temptation to give in to the despair can be intense like those ancient Israelites who wanted to go back to Egypt when the wilderness was more than they were prepared for. Yet, like those Israelites, we are not alone in our wandering. God is with us shining with that light that no political situation, no pandemic, no grief can extinguish. If someone has recently shared a glimpse of that light with you, do something to express your gratitude. And then pass the light on to the next person who needs a glimpse of hope.
COVID is claiming enough lives suicide and addiction doesn’t need to add to the number. Find the resources in your community to help. Learn the warning signs of suicide. Know who might be at risk. Learn how to respond in a lifesaving way. Be gentle with yourself and those around you. We are all stressed. We are all doing the best we can to get through the challenges of today. Trust in God’s love. Believe in yourself. Know that you and all your neighbors are God’s beloved children. You are loved. You are wanted. You are valued.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
• Psalm 139:11-12
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com