In the beginning, the stay-at-home orders came as a welcome reprieve, even if an uneasy one. While a global pandemic surged, leaving the most vulnerable among us more vulnerable than ever, the pace of my family life slowed as if a river had kicked us out into the gentle flow of a lake. My wife and I watched the news with concern as more infections took hold in communities the world over, even as our children ran through the backyard sprinklers, the water waving across their small bodies, blessing them like a long glistening hand. When not dialing into the office or overseeing school work, we read books out loud to each other, built and repaired furniture, cooked and slept and relaxed more than we had in literally years.
And yet, as homeschooling came to an end with the summer heat, and the children erupted from their contained rhythms into a kind of joyful anarchy, another crisis old as America was coming to the fore—the problem of racism.
As people took to the streets following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, at home I carried on in the patterns required of me as the father of four children. With demonstrations rising up the world over, I could see the tension rising within our four walls, too—in my wife and me, in the children—the pressures of society encroaching upon our tiny domain like a vise squeezing the house. At that point, I admit that my soul began to fray and unravel a little, caught as I was in the domestic urgency of daily life within a world desperate as ever for divine mercy and justice.
I watched the torrents of headlines scroll by from day to day, wrote letters to government officials, pursued conversations with family and friends about how we might try to embody Micah 6:8 as a community: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV). And my old relationship with exhaustion returned at full force—I felt my own rhythms begin to slip into a quiet chaos, my ambitions and disciplines faltering. Prayer felt like a language I once knew but could no longer summon through the indecipherable clouds of anxiety. The house became harder to maintain. Working from home felt like walking the path of Sisyphus. If in the pandemic’s early days I felt relieved and oddly energized, I now felt ill-equipped and drained.
Though our struggles may appear insurmountable or unending to us, to the Lord they are simply an opportunity to draw us closer to Him and to teach us to rely upon Him more.
It was when I was in this place that I came across Dr. Stanley’s words one afternoon, following a heavy storm that had flooded our neighborhood streets. In his book Prayer: The Ultimate Conversation, he wrote:
The Father never wrings His hands when you go to Him with a challenging situation. He is capable of leading you to victory, regardless of what you face.
He asks the rhetorical question, “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27). Absolutely not. He was able to create all of humankind from dust—with our immensely intricate biological systems, distinctive physical attributes, unique personality traits, and different spiritual gifts (Gen. 2:7). The God who can do that can take care of any issue that concerns us.
Though our struggles may appear insurmountable or unending to us, to the Lord they are simply an opportunity to draw us closer to Him and to teach us to rely upon Him more. The question is: Can we stop trying to manage our circumstances? Can we let go of control, allowing Him to do as He intends? (p. 199)
I confess that as I read that passage, I stumbled through the dark into a sea of doubt—my own smallness in a neighborhood of a city on a continent of an earth that burned with the rage and pain of millions. “Where are You?” I wanted to say to God but didn’t. Couldn’t. If I could imagine the words my anxious body would speak, it would be something like the following: “How can I be Your hands and feet in the world when I feel as if my own household is slipping through my hands? How can I enact Your love and grace and justice when I struggle to believe You are here, working for the good?”
My best intentions, my efforts—all that I was capable of in that moment—could not be enough. As I read Dr. Stanley’s words over again, my eyes narrowed upon four in particular: “Let go of control.”
My best intentions, my efforts—all that I was capable of in that moment—could not be enough. Not for my family or friends near and far. Not for the suffering, spread across the globe. Not for the hidden wounds of neighbors, locked behind their doors. As I read Dr. Stanley’s words over again, my eyes narrowed upon four in particular: “Let go of control.” I said them out loud to myself, as if breathing:
Let go—of control. Let go ...
In the weeks that followed, the pandemic would continue to spread and claim more lives. The evil forces in society that had oppressed men and women because of the color of their skin would continue to harm and kill. I’d like to say that from that moment I was able to abide in Christ’s peace—to locate myself in His care, rather than my uncertain worry. But it was a struggle. I had to remind myself again and again that there is no doing justice or enacting kindness without humility—there is no love I could sustain long-term apart from the love of God. And while none of this absolved me from the need to step forward and lend my hands, mouth, feet, the choice to acknowledge my smallness helped me embrace it. And to know that, ultimately, the outcome was not and never will be in my hands—though I’m invited to participate in the work He’s doing right now to make all things new.
Illustration by Adam Cruft