I lay on the floor on a Friday evening 27 days ago, legs stretched out long, arms flat at my sides, palms up. I was at the tail end of a “yoga for anxiety” video I found on youtube, and I turned my head to look out the window. The snow had just started falling gently. And the anxiety that had just been churning deep inside my belly was stilled.
Just hours before, I was the one sheepishly wandering the half-empty aisles of Target with a cart loaded full: boxes of diapers, snacks, the last two bags of frozen chicken nuggies in the case, some cleaning wipes because we were getting low. I felt embarrassed at acting responsibly. In getting prepared. I felt like I was adding to the panic that seemed to be everywhere.
A short time later, Josh and I were talking about my upcoming trip to Alaska. Rinnah and I were set to fly to Anchorage the following weekend, where I would be teaching at a women’s retreat. I had felt uneasy about going for days – since the coronavirus news broke, really. But I couldn’t tell if that unease was the kind of classic spiritual warfare that comes when you’re about to teach the Word of God to a couple of hundred women throughout four straight sessions in a 24-hour time period. Or if it was a legitimate “it’s time to stay home with your babies” kind of motherly instinct. Whatever it was, it had become clear that bringing Rinnah with me on a plane with layovers on both ends in Seattle (right in the middle of where the worst was happening – back before New York took the hit) was looking like a little bit of a crazy idea.
“Leave her here with me,” Josh said. It was the second or third time he had suggested it. The first couple of times, I shrugged it off. “She might be ok without me,” I said, “but I’m not ok without her yet.” But that last time he said it? It landed differently. I acquiesced and started to get excited at the thought of an entire weekend with full nights of sleep.
An hour later, the retreat was canceled, and the mix of emotions began swirling. The relief of not having to travel, the fear that my words were worthless, the anxiety of the unknown fueled by the constant scrolling on my phone that I couldn’t put down. So I found the yoga video. And for 30 minutes, I focused on breathing. And stretching. And relaxing the tension and easing the stiff muscles. And, for a moment, the stirring chaos stilled. That breathing chased away the anxiety.
* * *
I’ve always been awed by sitcom parents. You know the ones – when the episode gets shaky and the child makes the wrong choice, and the music plays, and you know the speech is coming. Those sitcom writers always know just what to have the parent say at just the right moment. Like the part in The Village when Sarah is reconciling with her pregnant, teenage daughter.
“There was this study a few years ago,” Sarah said. “They tested all of these old women and found male cell tissue in their hearts. You know why? They were all mothers of sons. Turns out, we trade cells before birth. I’m in your bones, babe. And you are everywhere in me. So wherever you land in your future story? Wherever you go. I will still be in you.”
And I sit there, jaw on the floor, tears in my eyes, all the while wondering: where do they come up with this stuff?! And also wondering: when the crisis comes… will I have the right words? The perfectly prepared speech? The kind of sit-down-moment that will stop my children in their tracks, instilling the words in their minds for the rest of their lives?
It’s a little bit how I feel right now in the middle of this worldwide pandemic. I first felt the stirring to write this post 27 days ago. And I started a draft (the text you just read at the beginning of this post). But then, I let it sit. Unfinished. In the light of the massive scale of this virus, and the big, scary feelings and heart-wrenching realities that so many are living, my words suddenly felt small. So I set them aside for 27 days. I’ve avoided my quiet time because I didn’t know where to read. I struggled to worship remotely because how is this good? And, honestly, I was afraid that God was going to tell me to write when I really, really didn’t want to.
But this morning? I finally stared down my fear.
I read Ann Voskamp’s post. The one that talks about how this is a war and where are the prayer warriors? Because, “when plagues descend, prayers must rise up.” My Bible next to me was open to Exodus 11. It’s the first time that the word “plague” is used in Scripture. Yes, nine other plagues had already taken place before chapter 11, but they were never actually defined as such within the verses themselves. Until Exodus 11:1. And the death of the firstborn. It was the plague that ushered in the Passover. I saw the widespread death and national grief written right there on the page. I recognized it in this strange new world that came out of nowhere.
I step back and look, I prayed the words honest in my prayer journal, and I can’t see Your glory in this, so I struggle with the words. God … I don’t know what to say. I feel Your Spirit nudging “write”. But I don’t know what to say. So I read someone else’s words. And pray someone else’s glory-breathed prayers. Because “when plagues descend, my prayers must rise up.” And I can’t seem to muster up any words of my own. So, “make me brave because bravery wins a thousand battles I can’t see and strengthens a thousand others to win their battles too.”
I glanced down at the open Bible next to me, and all I see are six simple words: the plague shall not destroy you (Exodus 12:13). And then, as it always does, the Spirit-symphony started with the strings. And as the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 came flooding, I chased them down: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.”
I look to the margin to read a handwritten note from who-knows-when. It’s referring to just a few verses later, 2 Corinthians 4:13. The one that starts with, “and since we have the same spirit of faith…” And that margin-note picks up right where I left off in my 27-day-old writing draft with the breathing. Because the Greek word that’s used there for “spirit”? It also means breath.
“Pay attention to what is written (Scripture),” my scribbled note reads. “Live off of the CPR of God. As we believe, we inhale His Word. And as we speak, we exhale it.” And then? A cross-reference. “See John 15:7-8.” So I turn there and read. And the Spirit of God answered my just-written, “I don’t know what to say” prayer.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7-8).
Without really realizing I was doing it, I took a deep breath. Because, just minutes earlier, I had prayed: “God, I don’t have the words.” And He whispered right back: “But, Jane, You have Mine.”
Yes, we are troubled. The Greek language describes being pressed the way grapes are. You know – when a winemaker is making wine. It’s being in a narrow, straitened, and compressed way, continually. A contracted way – one that is decreased in size and range. (Hello, perpetually stuck in our homes, sound familiar?) And it’s on every side. This virus has touched every aspect of our lives. In everything. In every way. In every relation. But we are not distressed. That distressed-word is another one that means straitened, but in a more extreme sense. It’s “to be sorely straitened in spirit.” In other words, our physical lives have been disrupted on all sides. But our spirit? It cannot and will not be.
Yes, we are perplexed. Nothing about this makes sense. We are continually at a loss – a loss for words, for things to do to entertain ourselves (and our children). We don’t know what to do or how to feel. But one cross-reference sat there in the definition of the word, tucked in and waiting for me. For this time. For this holy Easter week. Because there was one other time that people were perplexed. Two women, actually (among a few others). The ones who went very early in the morning with prepared burial spices to bury the body of the Man they knew to be the Son of God. “But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,” Luke 24 reads. “Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.”
He is not here. He is risen.
And so, when we are troubled and contained, our spirits run free. When we are continually perplexed and without words, His once-and-for-all death that ushered in that glorious resurrection? It speaks for itself. Because it’s ok to be perplexed – as long as we aren’t in despair, utterly and entirely at a loss, renouncing all hope.
Yes, we are persecuted, but we are not forsaken. Or abandoned. Or deserted. Or left in this confinement. God has not left us helpless. And He will not leave us in the lurch.
Yes, we are cast down. We are thrown to the ground because the rug was yanked out from under us. But while we are there, let us lay prostrate before God, worshiping when it doesn’t make sense, to find the strength to stand back up again. Because we will not be destroyed. Life as we knew it might not ever be the same again. But our eternal life? The one that we have because God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him will not die but have it? That cannot be touched. So we rise up on shaky knees in uncertain times and say with unwavering resolution: this plague will not destroy me. Because God first spoke the promise at the cusp of the Passover. And Jesus celebrated the Passover on the way to the cross. And this week, we anticipate the celebration of His resurrection that gave us that eternal life that we can rest in the hope of.
And so I breathe. Because God formed man of the dust of the heart and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). He bent over Adam, blowing life into His otherwise breathless piece of art. And then, without missing a beat, Adam took up the rhythm of His breathing, literally living off of the CPR of God. In. And out. And in. And out. Breathe in grace. Breathe out YHWH. To the cadence of His living, breathing Spirit. Because this plague? It will not destroy us.
* * *
I’m going live!
P.S. I don’t want to forget about that “on every side” part of 2 Corinthians 4:8. Because, as it turns out, God has a lot to say about that too. But it’s a much more detailed story, and that is why I’m getting brave and doing a big, scary thing that I’ve never done before: I’m going live on IGTV this Friday, Good Friday, at 4pm EST to talk about the All-Encompassing Goodness of God. Carve out an hour – I promise, it will be good. I would be so honored if you would join me.
Sign up here for a reminder, and I’ll send out an email when the time is getting close: