April 2020 Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
Don’t forget the little things. In this unprecedented time of practicing social distancing, and with so many weighty matters facing our world, it is easy for some of us to neglect the little things. By “little things” I’m talking about small acts and practices that form the basis of bigger, more consequential, things. For example, while we focus on big things like tracking the spread of Covid-19, we might set aside our own feelings. It is easy to think that our inconveniences pale in correlation to the world’s problems, but what I want to explore is how attending to our own feelings or fears is actually an essential part of maintaining a foothold for hope in the Lord during these anxious times.

A few years ago I underwent surgery on my left foot to reattach some tendons I had damaged when I stepped on a couple of nails. The doctor assured me that it was a relatively straightforward procedure whereby he would reattach the tendons with a pair of surgical screws. The surgery went just as planned and there were no complications whatsoever and the doctor was pleased with the results, but next came the hard part: recovery and rehab. As it turns out my toes had to relearn how to be toes, and that process took time and hard work.

Once the surgical site had healed, my doctor referred me to a physical therapist. The therapist had me do a series of movements and stretches to determine my baseline. He then prescribed a regimen of exercises that I could do at home to strengthen my toes and the muscles in my left leg that had atrophied in the six months between my injury and surgery. The exercises were simple enough: a few stretches and exercises several times a day, no big deal. In fact, I grew frustrated that I wasn’t doing more—wasn’t there a faster way back to normalcy?

I discovered a paradox as I rehabbed my toes. On the one hand, I knew that I had a long way to go to get back to normal. On the other hand, the exercises my physical therapist had me do were so absurdly simple that I quietly questioned how doing them was going to make much of a difference. It turns out they really did. It took a while but the cumulative of work with my physical therapist, and those simple exercises, made all the difference. Walking may seem simple enough, but it is actually a very complex series of movements and functions—or relationships—that must work in conjunction with one another. As I discovered, a couple of damaged tendons threw off the whole process.

What does this have to do with our feelings, our fears, and our hope in Christ? In Romans 5:1–5 (and following) , Paul writes: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Paul describes hope as a complex system involving relationships between suffering, perseverance, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God demonstrated to us through the cross of Christ. Acknowledging our own suffering—our feelings and fears—to God is an essential component of hope. Hope is not the diminishment of suffering. Hope is the expression of our faith in Jesus—his death and resurrection—that says that our suffering matters to God and that God will see us through. We all suffer, but those who are in Christ do not suffer without hope. As was the case with those little exercises my physical therapist gave me—the ones I quietly questioned the efficacy of—that brought back my toe functions and allowed me to walk without pain, so is the case with getting in touch with our own anxiety during this period of stay-at-home social distancing. I encourage you to pause from the bigger stories in the news or in your life, to attend to the little things and to bring them to God. When I say pause, it might take time to understand how you are truly feeling. Sometimes a burst of anger or frustration is an expression of a deeper hurt—and these are the things Paul invites us to bring to God.

There is a paradox in the Christian walk that on the one hand we have ultimate joy in Christ, yet on the other hand we are not immune from suffering. To acknowledge suffering doesn’t seem like it would do much good; it seems like we’re only complaining when we should be rejoicing. But the more we are in tune with what is unsettling in our lives, the more we can find hope—a hope that is deep and enduring, poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Friends, don’t forget the little things. The act of sharing our suffering with God is a courageous act of faith that in turn is a witness to the hope expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To cry out to God is to bring glory to the One who is the source of our hope. Our practicing the little things is all part of the greater work of God to bring hope and healing in this time of crisis..

matt sig