Thanks to our lovely guest blogger Florence Gildea – and do look out for her great new book, ‘Lessons I have Unlearned,” coming out on 25 June…
It’s coming: the lifting of the restrictions for Covid-19, the end of the pandemic, the ‘back to normal’ we have all longed for. Our happily ever after.
Or maybe that’s how you want to feel, but you find your joy is intermingled with grief, and your relief with anxiety. If so, I don’t think you are the odd one out. In fact, I think you’re in tune with reality – how it was before, and will be beyond, Covid-19 – while we live in the time of now and the not-yet, between the dawn of the Kingdom of God and its full fruition.
Of course, I want the pandemic to end like a Hollywood movie, with all the loose ends neatly tied up in a bow, and a satisfying sense of resolution. I want the credits to roll, leaving me with the feeling that, ultimately, it all made sense; there was a purpose behind every heartbreak; somehow, it was all worth it.
Or even better still, I wish that, as we disembarked from the rollercoaster that has been Covid-19, we were taken to a Lost & Found stall where we could claim everything that has been lost since it began. I wish the attendants behind the desk could wave a magic wand and undo all the hurt – brush away the worry lines, banish the social anxiety, magically kiss better the strained relationships and generously fill the drained bank accounts.
In feel-good films, loss is always the gateway to something better and times of struggle always have a clean-cut ending. But there’s a reason fairy tales and chick flicks cut away just at the moment the couple finally get together: ending at what is really the beginning lets us believe the euphoria lasted forever. It leaves us with the impression that there were no laundry baskets or evenings with nothing good on the telly, no arguments, no illnesses, and no irreversible tragedies.
In reality, going through a season of suffering doesn’t buy us a silky-smooth ride through the next one. So, as much as we might wish that all our anguish over the past 18 months will have earned us a trouble-free existence for the next century or so, God doesn’t operate by such neat transactional logic.
That grates against the part of me that loves crystal clear lines of cause and effect to give me a sense of control. But the part of me that has faith bigger than my insecurities knows that God not working on a quid pro quo basis is very much good news. That part knows that that is the meaning of grace.
Without grace, pain and suffering would get the final word. Without it, whenever our expectations were dashed, our hearts would be irrevocably broken. But with it, nothing is beyond redemption.
We might not know what comes next as we step off the route map out of lockdown. (Unfortunately, God makes no promises of bubble-wrapping us from hardship, and He may not sign off on our dreams of a blissful existence for when the face masks come off.) But if we are open to seeing God even amidst the rubble, no future unknown need make us afraid.
Because every moment and experience – even the most shattering or scandalous – can be somewhere we can meet the living God, an outpost of his ever-expanding Kingdom.
God has blessed not just the peaks of our life, but the plateaus, the troughs and the rock-bottom bouts – that much was made clear when God most powerfully revealed His character by, in Christ, dying a shameful and lonely death. His glory shone most clearly not in a stunning demonstration of military power, of riches or even an awe-inspiring worship service, but when Jesus hung on the cross. And in taking evil and shame, jealousy and pain, deception and disgrace, and making even those experiences thresholds into full and everlasting life, Jesus stripped them of their terror.
Leaving behind the restrictions for Covid-19 might not usher in our happily-ever-after ending, but one of cosmic proportions is certainly on its way. The preciousness of each reunion with our family and friends after so many months is just a foretaste of the reconciliation of the whole entire world to its Creator, the return of everything to how it should be. We might have been waiting over a year for the first; but our souls, and all of creation with them, have been longing for the second for millennia. So the prayer of the Church remains: Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.
Florence Gildea became a Christian after anorexia turned her life upside down. She writes about that experience, and finding God in all the places she’d rather not have ended up in her forthcoming book Lessons I Have Unlearned: Because Life Doesn’t Look Like It Did In The Pictures