Interlude: A Response to Fear
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
I was posting about the wilderness journey I’ve experienced but thought that writing about the situation we are in as a global community seems more timely and necessary. I pray I can put some thoughts together that may encourage you and “lift [your] eyes up to the heavens, where our help comes from…”
Here in St. Petersburg the global panic can’t be seen on the streets or in the stores. (Not yet, at least.) It’s life as usual here, and there’s plenty of toilet paper on the shelves. (For now.) But there is a slow-burning simmer under the surface of everything and of course, it’s only a matter of time before Russia begins to close down like so many other places. Already the hotels are emptier than usual, and the long lines of Chinese tourists at all of our famous sites have dwindled to nothing. It’s going to be felt—this lack, this emptiness—possibly for a long time. Fear has crept in everywhere and its tentacles reach very far indeed.
But to tell you the truth, there is no place I’d rather be when the world goes crazy. And it feels like it has gone crazy, literally сошел с ума (“soshol s uma”, gone out of one’s mind) and fear is driving everyone and everything. Fear is making our decisions, cancelling our flights, locking us down, shutting our doors. Yes, yes, yes, of course it’s safety that is doing that, protection, I know, I get it, but it’s fear under it all. In the name of safety and protection we isolate to contain the threat. I just hope and pray our hearts don’t do the same.
It occurred to me as I sat on the couch this morning, edging ever closer to fear and panic, mulling over how many groceries and products I should buy, how much to store away, that I am a virgin to suffering. Really, as an American, what do I know of hardship and lack? Maybe I can’t say as “an American” as if our nation never went through huge difficulties and crisis. Maybe I mean a middle-aged American, a Gen-Xer, someone who really doesn’t understand how to live without everything at my fingertips, without stores with shelves stocked to the ceilings, without a basement and storage unit filled with thousands of items that I have pack-ratted away. Is there any other way to live that feels safe?
I gave up the house and basement and shelves of stuff when I moved here, but still, Russians marvel when they come over at how many items we have all over the place that we don’t plan on using like, today. (To them I am a total pack rat although by American standards we have very little storage.) Yes—today, that’s how many Russians live, they buy the stuff they need for today and maybe tomorrow or next week, but pretty much—just today. And it’s an interesting study on how to live with a very different perspective than I am used to. And I am wondering if this way of life is going to teach me more than ever how to rely upon God and be resourceful like never before. I have much to learn from the people I live among.
Russians have an extremely long acquaintance with hardship, lack, and fear that somehow comforts me. And this city, this marvel of the North—my love, my “Peter”—has a deeper knowledge than most. For almost 900 days during World War II, the city was under siege by the Nazis. All communication and supplies were cut off. Millions of people starved to death, and it was the largest loss of life ever endured by a city in modern times.* I walk the streets with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the survivors of this tragedy. They have more capacity for endurance in their blood than they know. Which will bring them through this hardship, and the next one too. And maybe they can carry me along with them.
But fear and isolation are at our door as a global community, and Russia will not be spared. Who knows how long it will last and what kind of long term effects it all will bring? None of us will be spared “inconveniences” and possibly large-scale tragedies. What will we do during these days in which fear rules, worry restricts, and panic constricts? Will our faith actually rise up to new levels or be trampled under the feet of the crowd-mentality terror?
As I mulled and mused I finally did the thing I should have done in the very beginning--I picked up my Bible. I was turning to Psalm 91 (my go-to in times of trouble) but my eyes glanced first over the psalm before it, a psalm written by Moses. What I read surprisingly brought a very real peace, and I want to share the words here.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
I said “surprisingly brought a very real peace” because at first glance maybe the reminder of how mortal we all are, how God says to all of us “Return to dust, you mortals,” doesn’t seem like it should bring peace but rather more anxiety. But for me this ancient reality check was exactly what I needed, and maybe you do as well. The Lord HIMSELF is our dwelling place—not a city or country or continent which can open or close, which can bless or persecute, which can control or set free—The Lord, the everlasting God, the one who formed the entire world, who has all things under His control, the one who has saved and called and chosen us—HE RULES THIS EARTH, and no other! And I am His, and He is mine. I cannot ever for one moment be taken from His sight. He knows it all and has a plan for every moment of my life. Even if that life is cut short, even if I return to dust, I know I will simply fly to the everlasting arms and find new life in Him.
What do I truly have to fear? Suffering? Lack? Sickness? Separation? Yes I admit, these things are real and painful. From the small things like lack of paper products to the bigger issues like job losses and economies crashing, we are waking up every morning to news that can threaten to turn our blood cold. “But you are not of this world!” Was Jesus thinking of coronavirus when He said those words? I don’t know but He certainly knew we would endure times like this, times of fear and panic and terror. He knew what we would face. He warned us, encouraged us, and equipped us to get through this not just surviving but thriving. As salt and light. Bringing His Kingdom to earth. Declaring His rule and authority. Being a very calm presence in a world seemingly gone mad. Making peace instead of panic.
I have chosen this peace today instead of the panic that threatens to pull me away. I decided to be encouraged by the history of this city and by a people who have learned that tomorrow is no guarantee, so live in the moment you are in, live the best life possible right now. I drink in Moses’ words, finding warning and hope and comfort and perspective on eternity from this ancient prophet and priest. I raise my eyes up to the hills, where my help comes from. I fix those eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.
I choose faith instead of fear. Will you join me? Let’s walk this road together, for we are promised it will lead us home, to Him, the everlasting God.
*See article for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad