Faith in Tough Times
I had the honor of coaching four sports in high school athletics over the course of twenty years. It was a joy for me to walk a small portion of life with teen boys and girls and their parents. High school coaching is not just about a sport competition -- it’s about life. In those years there were times of what felt like the end of the world to the youth including relationship breakups, scholastic disappointments, tears over not receiving enough playing time, death of a grandparent, a kidney transplant for one player and cancer for another. Before one game, in the locker room, a varsity girl said she could not play anymore because she was pregnant. One of my players went home one day and murdered his family. Talk about trauma. Yes, coaching was about life.
Two slogans were frequently discussed when either the ball game or game of life went against us: “The sooner you understand that life is not fair, the happier you will be,” and “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” I think these “secular” slogans work in the life of the church as well. Throughout scripture we witness the strength and victorious faith of people in the most dire of circumstances. Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and thrown in prison for causing a public disturbance. Later that night jailers were stunned to hear them praising God and singing hymns! Beatings and jail could not remove their joy.
How do we respond as people of faith in this 2020 Pandemic where lives and jobs are lost, routines interrupted, stresses and strains abound for almost everyone in most walks of life? In an article Tom Thurman wrote about the current pandemic: “I confess to… self-pity. I am bored, inconvenienced and lonely. Woe is me! ‘Wallowing in self-pity’ would be an apt description of my state of mind.” I can resonate to that response. Martin Luther’s wife Kate responded to his depressive, self-pitying mindset once by dressing in funeral black. When Martin asked who was dead she responded, “Have you not heard that God is dead? My husband Martin Luther would never be in such a state of mind if he had a living God to trust.” Martin laughed and agreed.
So here is our bind, people of God. We dare not minimize the difficult circumstances that are thrust upon so many people around us. We should not hide our own despair at what we face on many fronts in 2020. But, lest we dwell in self-pity, remember that life isn’t fair and nowhere is it promised that life will be easy. Take to heart the command of Psalm 100 to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” The discipline of counting our blessings and singing songs of joy will help turn our eyes from our troubles to our Savior. The Psalm continues, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” In Tom Thurman’s article, he discovered the story in his family history of a great grandfather and mother that experienced service in WW1 and lived through the 1918 Spanish flu. In their letters he discovered a spirit of unselfishness and giving that marked their lives, even in the worst of times. The disciplines of gratitude and unselfish giving of ourselves to others can help move us toward joy. One thing that we can count on: God is with us. “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.