God’s Time, Our Time, and COVID-19

Making sense of our monotonous days during the pandemic

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Editor's Note: As we face this global pandemic together, the In Touch editorial team will publish a new essay each Friday to help you remember what’s certain in uncertain times.

 

“My days have been consumed in smoke ... my days are like a lengthened shadow.”
—Psalm 102

 

Wait, what day is it?  If only I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve asked myself that question in the last few weeks. To say I am constantly checking our kitchen wall calendar is not an exaggeration. I’ve honestly lost track, and I’m usually a pretty good tracker. And in text conversations, phone calls, and the dreaded Zoom with family and friends and work colleagues, they are asking that same question. If we were to push our question just a smidge further, we’re all essentially asking, What time is it?

 

In the early days of this pandemic, we still thought we had time by the tail. There was still a center, if you will. But the center has not held, and we the people have been plunged into something resembling the experience of those who live and work aboard submarines, where time folds in on itself over the course of a deep-sea mission. The difference here is that those crews go through rigorous psychological training, and those who “pass” are relatively confident they won’t go off the deep end before surfacing once again. But we haven’t had that training. The human hatch has been sealed, and we’ve submerged. Whether we like it or not, we’re now living in—or by—different time.

“Times of Trouble” —Psalm 59:16 (NIV)

We traditionally tell time in two ways. First, there is chronos. Look no further than your wristwatch or alarm clock (which may be one and the same). Chronos is clock time, such as 9:30 a.m. or 4:15 p.m. Then, there’s kairos. For the believer, this is what we consider God's time. Think of Peter, James, and John as they accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration. Chronos was definitely ticking on, but they were also in kairos—something was happening far beyond hours and minutes and seconds. In the valley of the shadow of COVID-19, chronos has blurred for most of us, and kairos, which we usually see at best through a glass darkly, well, let’s be honest, feels even darker.

All of this has caused me to wonder: Might there be another way to consider time—not to replace the other two, for the other two kinds of time are essential (there’s that word we keep hearing …), but a third to possibly complement and guide the way we live, especially right now?

Whether we like it or not, we’re now living in— or by— different time.

A few weeks ago I read an article by a cancer patient describing her experience of our current days. She indicated life’s not really much different than usual for her because, for a few years now, she’s lived with a different relationship to time. Everything on her calendar has an asterisk beside it— nothing is certain now, as a result of her diagnosis—and she’s often late to and even occasionally misses appointments due to diminished energy or ability in the wake of treatment. For people with disabilities, such time is real time. They’re used to living in slow motion. In short, multiple aspects of access to what many call “normal life” are denied or hindered because of issues of inaccessibility. Yes, as Anne McDonald wrote, “One’s perception of time is dependent on one’s dependency.”

It’s always good to have words to accurately describe our realities, so I wondered if there was another way to talk about time right now—time with an asterisk beside it, time that admits our dependency. My mind recalled the title of a book I once read, and a quote that made an impression on me.

“Only a fool is not afraid.” —A Wrinkle in Time

So, with a fair amount of fear, please allow me to offer a proposal, borrowing not Madeline L’Engle’s ideas so much as her language. I’ve no desire here to be cute or clever, but to be clear. What if, under the umbrella of chronos and kairos, we added another word to describe our current experience of time? My gut tells me this won’t be a stretch for many of us, because we’ve felt it but  possibly lacked a word for it. What about wrinkled time?

I wondered if there was another way to talk about time right now—time with an asterisk beside it, time that admits our dependency.

Wrinkled time. Think about it. Wrinkled time is the slower pace of living that people with disabilities, and children dependent on school lunches for daily nourishment, and the aged in nursing homes and extended care facilities know all too well. It feels very real for them—their weekly, daily, even hourly experience. A large swath of our world’s population tries to either ignore that experience of time (Express check-out lane, please), tolerate it from a distance (Oh, those poor people over there), or more often than not somehow transcend it (These are the seven steps to “crushing it” ). Yet now the rest of us have walked a few weeks in shoes that resemble theirs—at least a little bit. We’ve felt ourselves wrinkled, and there’s every indication these weeks could turn into months or beyond.   

 

A Day Full of Wrinkles:

 

“My times are in your hands.” —Psalm 31:15

Selah is a word found most often in the Psalms. Most scholars see the word as indicating a pause, or a break. I’ve always thought of them as wrinkles. What follows are a gathering of selahs—pause-points for your day. They can serve as both reminders and admissions that even as our lives aren’t always matching up with the current clock, everything is still in God’s hands. Everything.

Morning selah: As soon as you wake up in the morning, take a look at your watch or phone and simply make a mental note of the time. You probably do this instinctively, but do it with intention. Are you waking up at about the same time each day? Or have you recently found yourself waking earlier, or perhaps later? Thank God for the new mercies of a new day.

Noon selah: When you break for lunch, place your index and middle fingers on the underside of your opposite wrist (feel your pulse). As you reorient yourself briefly to your physical being, how would you describe the health of your body right now—do you feel strong, weak, or something in between? Are you incorporating some kind of movement into your days? Physical exercise, such as walking? Now what about the health of your soul, your faith? Are you moving each day spiritually (prayer, Bible reading)?

Evening selah: At dinner or just after, pause and consider someone to check up on. This could be a family member, friend, neighbor, church member, or work colleague. It doesn’t have to be much, but reaching out via phone, email, or even text message means more than most of us realize. Now follow through on that thought.  

Night selah: Before you close your eyes, think of one thing that frustrated you about the day. Now think of one thing during the day you were grateful for. Admit the frustrations and thank God for His provision.

And if for some reason, at any point in the day, you have the desire to pray but simply can’t find the words, perhaps the following can lead you to a prayer of your own:

Our Father who is always near, please reveal Your nearness this day, which feels strangely like yesterday and the day before. Your name is holy—who else can we call to? We pray, Your kingdom come and Your will be done, here on earth in our wrinkled time as it is in heaven, where Your time is the only one that matters. We ask for literal bread this day, for both ourselves and our neighbors. And we request the bread of forgiveness for our trespasses as we in turn share that same bread with others for theirs. We’ve all fallen short, Lord. We know this. Our days feel hazy and shadowy—keep us from the evil one, we pray. Give us the courage to chase after justice and love and mercy, to do what we can to redeem the time. For Yours and Yours alone is the kingdom, power, and glory, now and forevermore. Amen. 

 

Art by Jonathan Todryk

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1 Hear my prayer, O LORD! And let my cry for help come to You.

2 Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Your ear to me; In the day when I call answer me quickly.

3 For my days have been consumed in smoke, And my bones have been scorched like a hearth.

4 My heart has been smitten like grass and has withered away, Indeed, I forget to eat my bread.

5 Because of the loudness of my groaning My bones cling to my flesh.

6 I resemble a pelican of the wilderness; I have become like an owl of the waste places.

7 I lie awake, I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop.

8 My enemies have reproached me all day long; Those who deride me have used my name as a curse.

9 For I have eaten ashes like bread And mingled my drink with weeping

10 Because of Your indignation and Your wrath, For You have lifted me up and cast me away.

11 My days are like a lengthened shadow, And I wither away like grass.

12 But You, O LORD, abide forever, And Your name to all generations.

13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion; For it is time to be gracious to her, For the appointed time has come.

14 Surely Your servants find pleasure in her stones And feel pity for her dust.

15 So the nations will fear the name of the LORD And all the kings of the earth Your glory.

16 For the LORD has built up Zion; He has appeared in His glory.

17 He has regarded the prayer of the destitute And has not despised their prayer.

18 This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.

19 For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the LORD gazed upon the earth,

20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free those who were doomed to death,

21 That men may tell of the name of the LORD in Zion And His praise in Jerusalem,

22 When the peoples are gathered together, And the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.

23 He has weakened my strength in the way; He has shortened my days.

24 I say, O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days, Your years are throughout all generations.

25 Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

26 Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.

27 But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.

28 The children of Your servants will continue, And their descendants will be established before You."

16 But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.

15 My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.

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