I’ve spent the last six weeks on unpaid leave from work due to the COVID-19 epidemic. There have been some truly beautiful and happy days during this time. I have treasured the long conversations on the phone with dear friends, the hours spent walking in parks and photographing spring flowers and budding trees, the opportunity to reflect and fill pages and pages with my writing. There have also been days that were dark and heavy. I have struggled with the pain of isolation, the sadness in losing familiar rhythms of life and my future plans, the anxiety and fear triggered by overwhelming uncertainty. My experience of these six reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….
“When this is over” is a recurring phrase in our society right now. I’ve said it myself and heard it countless times from other people. Underneath those words is the wish to live in a time without the heaviness, pain, and struggle of these days. But is life ever just pleasure with no pain? Certainly there are days, weeks, even seasons where there is more happiness than heartache. Conversely, there are periods with more storms than smooth sailing. But I don’t think it’s ever completely one or the other. I think life is always some mixture of both. It’s a normal human reaction to wish for pain to end, but I’ve found it’s not helpful for me to hold my breath (literally and figuratively), just waiting for the pain to end. When I do that, I deprive myself of what I need to live fully right now.
So how do I live fully with both? The light and the darkness, the hope and the despair–how do I navigate such contrasting forces in the same week, the same day? I think they can only be reconciled by that which is constant in both.
O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am;
Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?
If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.
If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,
Even then You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.
(Psalm 139:1, 7-12, VOICE)
If my purpose in life is first and foremost to walk with God all the day of my life, then I have the source of love and wisdom as my constant in all of life’s variations.