Somewhere between presence and paralysis

Maybe it’s just me … but I’m guessing it’s not. Maybe it’s realizing my real age, not the one I still think I am … but I’m guessing it’s not. Maybe it’s acknowledging that “I ain’t as good as I once was” … but I’m guessing it’s not. I find myself now waking up every morning doing a wellness inventory. What is that feeling in my chest? How is my breathing? Where did that cough come from? Does it hurt when I swallow … any fever?  I’m finding it very stressful to be living where the effects of the virus are very real … where I know people who have it, where streets now have an apocalyptical emptiness. I begin every morning cycling through my disciplined breath prayer “Be still and know that I am God”. Then I’m ready to put on the brave, calm, and normal and carry the first morning coffee in to the peacefully sleeping love of my life and the anxiety becomes a memory … until we begin to contemplate what our helping is going to look like that day. Because that is who we are … we are people who inherently want to help … at least I’ve been trying to remind myself that lately. To be honest, if not for my wife’s unflinching and immediate first response to crisis in the form of the question “How can we help?”, I’d probably be paralyzed. More often than not I’d just like to sit this one out … paralyzed by a feeling that I’ve really never had before.

But we are not and I am not those people. We have always been people of presence… good times and bad. I am not used to this. When Katrina decimated New Orleans we immediately asked “How can we help?”. This turned in to two consecutive journeys of relief to help homeowners who had lost practically everything. We dealt with hazardous waste, rats, snakes, desperate survivors … all without flinching, without even a second thought. When confronted with the reality of the clean water crisis in developing countries and villages I jumped in to leading 4 different teams to 4 different Central American villages without hesitation … despite pages of warnings and cautions from the State Department travel site. Each trip we faced heat, serious illness and political tension. We are not finished with the effort there. So the question continues to burn for me … what is it now that makes me want to hide?

I don’t have an answer. I may never have an answer to the paralysis. I do however have an answer to what keeps me looking for ways to help now, during this current odyssey that we all find ourselves in. It is in the moments of presence that I can muster that I find the answer. It’s actually the same as the moments spent in far scarier circumstances. It is the reality that our presence is actually a lifeline to people in times of need. It could be a physical lifeline … mucking out houses, drilling clean water wells, manning a serving line. When you are told that your presence is an answer to prayers of desperation from people facing the unimaginable, all fear and doubt disintegrate. It might be an emotional lifeline … when you show up consistently to support your local business and see faces light up when you walk through doors of desperation. When those who live on the streets express overwhelming gratitude for a simple takeout meal and our willingness to stand in the gap left by the current reality, the fear becomes a memory … until the next time.

Being a pastor, I know that I should be telling myself what I’ve told so many over the years in times like these. Look to the scriptures … read of God’s faithfulness … do not be afraid. Being human means I’ll honestly tell you that doesn’t necessarily cut it for me. I don’t see God there nearly as much as I see Him through the people I encounter when I’m brave enough to try. So I’ll continue to breathe his prayer for me. “Be still and know that I am God” “Be still and know that I am” “Be still and know” “Be still” “Be”

Maybe its just me struggling to live in the tension between presence and paralysis … but I’m guessing not.

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