This summer, our neighbours had a total of four trees taken down that bordered either side of our property. I really miss those big, beautiful trees. One tree was at least 50 years old, the other three were probably closer to 100, but it took only a few hours to reduce them to small piles of stump shavings scattered on the ground. It takes much longer to develop things than it does to tear them down.
A number of things have happened this summer that have made me wish life could go back to the way things were. Like many people, I wish we could go back to our pre-COVID-19 lives, when we didn’t have to wear masks to sing together and stay two metres away from people we cherish. I’ve gained a deeper understanding and empathy for people who don’t like change and are always wishing we could go back to the way things were. I get it now. I feel that lament in my own life.
Grieving loss is important and healthy, but one of the goals of grieving well is acceptance of “what is.” Denying or resisting change is futile and it sets you up for disappointment, bitterness and resentment. Life is not going back to the way things were. Those trees are gone, and I need to accept it.
My neighbours will hopefully plant new trees, but those big beautiful trees are gone. So is our pre-COVID-19 way of life. The pandemic will permanently change many aspects of society and how we live. Even after it has passed, things aren’t going back to the way they were before. That includes how we do and be church. We need to mourn what is lost, accept “what is,” and respond to this new season with courage, creativity, wisdom and faith.
Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books in the Bible. Its most famous passage is Chapter 3, where the teacher declares: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The teacher tells us that “there is a time to tear down and a time to build.”
We seem to be experiencing a season of deconstruction right now, tearing down old power structures, institutions, cultural systems and societal norms. I believe Divine Spirit is inviting the church into this deconstruction process both to be transformed and to become transforming agents in our world. We won’t stay in this season forever. There will be a time for rebuilding soon enough—but we can’t rush, deny or resist this season of tearing down.
The teacher also says “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” We’ve entered a season of refraining from embracing. This has been hard on many, but we must accept this season, not only because it’s appropriate right now but because there is meaning in each season. Each season has value in its time.
Wisdom is being able to discern what season we’re in and adjust accordingly. We cannot simply pine for the old times. It’s foolish to insist that things return to the way they were. That isn’t an option. Wisdom grieves the loss of the old while adjusting to the new with courage, creativity and faith.
Last week, I was biking with my sons on the hydro-cut trails in Kitchener and Waterloo, Ont. I’m not into biking, and some of these trails were pretty intense. I used my lowest gear for the first time in my life. I’ve never needed it before, but when you’re going up a really long, steep, winding hill with lots of rocks and roots, you need first gear. Most of the time, first gear is useless; it would be the worst gear to be stuck in. You wouldn’t get very far. But sometimes you need it.
I was discussing this with a good friend, and he said, “That’s like life. You’ve got to find the right gear for the part of the journey you’re on.”
I think the church is struggling to find the right gear for the season it finds itself in. That’s okay. Everyone is. What’s important is that we’re willing to switch gears and try out gears we’ve never tried before. You move really slowly in first gear, but sometimes it’s the only way to keep moving forward. Right now, the focus of my spiritual growth journey is finding the right gear—instead of grinding them.
Troy Watson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is grinding gears right now.