I saw a meme the other day that made me laugh out loud. Black background, white words, no pictures. A simple heading: IF 2020 WAS A MATH PROBLEM. And then, the punchline: If you’re going down a river at 2 MPH and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?
This is funny to me for several reasons, not the least of which is that I can totally relate. Our world right now seems like one impossibly long and complicated story problem on the SAT, and I feel like a first grader just learning the basics of addition and subtraction. I am not equipped for this. Covid, George Floyd, a string of wild fires, the deadly explosion in Beirut, a locust swarm in East Africa, protests in Hong Kong, a derecho in my own backyard…not to mention murder hornets, meth-gators, and nunchuck bears, oh my! I quite literally cannot keep up with the constant stream of bad news and heartbreak that seems poised to crush us all. If I submitted a synopsis for 2020 to my editor, she’d surely send it back arguing that the plot is ridiculous: too convoluted and completely implausible. Hard pass.
We’re reeling, all of us, because this is our reality. And the image that keeps coming back to me is of a moment in my life a few weeks ago. I had just completed the substantive edits on my new novel, and was carrying the 400+ loose pages of the manuscript to my desk. I tripped over the dog. Trying to clutch the bundle of papers closer only made it worse; I watched in horror as they slid from my arms and went flying. Under the table, across the room. Sheets scattered by the fan and upended, so disordered I could have cried. My story was quite literally strewn across the house, and the thought of painstakingly putting it back together was both daunting and exasperating.
I believe this is a starkly apt metaphor for our lives right now. In this often scary, new world of clashes over neighbor love vs. personal freedom, politics vs. religion, culture vs. history, truth vs. lies, our narrative has come undone. Where we’ve been, who we are, and what we hope for the future is being called into question. It feels like the cohesive, meaningful, and purposeful stories of our lives have descended into chaos as things we’ve always known and depended on prove to be temporal. And make no mistake—we are storytellers. It’s written into our DNA: “In the beginning,” and “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree,” and “They saw what seemed like tongues of fire…” We are but characters in the extraordinary, epic love story that spans all time and space, even if we don’t acknowledge or accept it. When we question our place in His story, we feel a soul-deep disconnect that echoes through our very bones.
But even in a time of coronavirus and violence, ghastly political rhetoric and distrust of our neighbors and friends, Jesus is still the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). This is still His story, no matter how broken and incomprehensible it may feel—or how off-track our storyline has become. He is the Alpha and the Omega; the first and the last; the God who was and is and is to come.
A local church printed signs at the beginning of the pandemic and distributed them across yards all over our town. They are a beautiful reminder that God’s Got This, and yet, after months of life in a Covid world, this saying feels a bit thin to me. I need—my kids need—a chance to drill down and test that claim, to find ourselves in the midst of His story even when the pages seem like a giant, scattered mess and we don’t know (can’t know) what comes next. If you’re feeling a bit like you’ve lost the plot, I hope a few of these suggestions will help you reconnect with the divine narrative and your place in it.
Where We’ve Been
There’s a reason stories are passed down from generation to generation, and we all know the impact and significance of history when we watch our children lean in close and listen intently to shared memories. One day during the pandemic, I found my nine-year-old scrolling through old photos on our computer. “Remember this, mom?” Of course, I did. We all ended up gathering around the screen for over an hour while we laughed and reminisced, and told each other stories that we already knew by heart.
I believe that there’s something deeply profound about reminding each other of where we’ve been. Those things haven’t changed, even if our understanding of them may shift as we learn and grow. The beauty that exists in moments together, in celebrations with friends and family, in milestones that deserve our attention, is both an anchor and a sail; it’s the cornerstone of who we are and it provides the launchpad for who we will be.
Are you feeling untethered? Are your kids? Take a walk down memory lane. Look at old photographs. Tell each other stories. FaceTime grandma and grandpa and ask them about the good old days—how they met, where they traveled, or when that scar became a part of their personal landscape. Retelling our history is a powerful way to foster connection and a sense of belonging.
Conversely, examining our past is also an important way to be real and honest about our failures and shortcomings. We don’t need trite platitudes right now; we need authenticity, integrity, and the opportunity to engage in heartfelt repentance when needed. Where have we messed up as individuals and as a community of faith? What sins of commission and omission have caused generational heartbreak and twisted the legacy of our families and churches? Our children are watching, and they are far more perceptive than we often give them credit for. They know we’re not perfect. They know our stories are littered with regrets. And we have told them over and over that the path of true repentance (a change of heart, a turnaround) leads to salvation. There is a raw beauty in confession as we acknowledge the mistakes of our past. “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” tethers us to the redemptive scope of God’s plan for his beloved creation.
Looking back to see where we’ve been is an important step as we orient ourselves once again in the overarching story of creation-fall-redemption that permeates every millisecond of our lives. But it’s just the beginning. In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about who we are and where we’re going—and how no matter how bewildering, and at times frightening, our present and future may be, our hope is and always has been assured.