A Prayer for Planners

 It's August, so I'm scoping out back-to-school sales, and coordinating calendars, and trying to figure out what's all on the schedule for the year ahead.

Like many of you, I imagine, my year really begins anew again in September, rather than January. Maybe it's because I always loved school, so much that I went for 20.5 years of my life.

Maybe it's because I have kids: one going into Pre-K and one going into second grade.

Maybe it's because as a Midwesterner, my rhythms still echo the rhythm of the farm and small town living: and the energy of the harvest always comes in the fall.

Usually this time of year, I'm watching preseason football and making a fantasy team and purchasing soccer cleats for the kids. I'm dreaming of trips to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch.

At work, I'm preparing for Sunday school and Confirmation and a new year of Bible studies. Growing up, the second Sunday of September was always Rally Sunday, and a new year began again at church, too.

This year, everything is different. I still bought the boys some back-to-school clothes, but back-to-school will mean virtual school from home for my second grader, and grandma and grandpa pre-K for my 4-year-old. Our city schools are overcrowded, so there was never a question of what our district would do. I'm hopeful that maybe with a more controlled Covid situation, my second grader might get some time in class, but I've never been called a pessimist. 

When all this started in March, I was convinced we'd quarantine for two weeks and be back at church for a big Easter celebration. Now, I'm just putting off thinking about the idea of Christmas Eve online: of a candlelight pandemic service where suddenly the idea of everyone blowing out 100 candles at once equals not "Silent Night" but a germ infestation. 

So much has changed.

Still today, as I watch the birds soar in the mid-August air, out the window of my country church, somehow I'm feeling OK about it all. Lately my trusty paper planner has been filling up again, though my book events and speaking engagements and workshops have mostly moved online and into webinars. We seem to be adapting. 

I hated wearing a mask at first and I still don't like it very much, but I've found my reaction to seeing them has changed. Instead of being afraid of the germs and disease the masks represent, I've found myself feeling moved emotionally to see other people wearing them. I'm starting to see them as a sign that we love each other, and we're willing to make ourselves uncomfortable to protect each other, and maybe that's OK.

This past Sunday, a church member sent me a photo of their granddaughter perched in front of the TV screen, watching me lead the live children's sermon. That photo moved me so much. It was a symbol that all the things we've been doing to be the church in the time of the world's great need and suffering has not been in vain. The photo reminded me of what I should have always known but tended to forget: that God's presence does not depend on earthly circumstances, and that in fact God is often most powerfully present when things are most strange, uncomfortable, or difficult.

In that photo I saw something else. I saw the stubborn persistence and resilience of American hope, love, and ingenuity. Our response to the virus has been alternatively lagging, in denial, divided, and frustrating. That's all true. But I also see the virus reawakening in many Americans the reminder that we are inextricably connected to one another, and we will not give in to the forces that seek to divide us or tarnish our nation's place as a country of compassion and hope for all.

Beyond rhetoric about churches opening or closing, the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst, reminding us that the church has never been our own to control, to open or close. At its best, the church is a holy institution, created to do God's work as a community in the world, and the church is not bound by American government anymore than it was bound by Soviet strictures or natural disasters. 

I'm writing all this as my Church Council prepares to meet this evening to talk about fall and the future of our church in the midst of Covid. It's a meeting that will involve planning and decision-making and compassion, and maybe some grief about the events, like the Fall Festival, that won't be taking place this year. Amidst that grief and uncertainty, I sense an internal, unshakeable peace: that no matter what we decide, God will continue to work in our midst. That elusive grace that reminds us that we are not in charge is comforting me as I look at a planner full of canceled or changed upcoming programs. 

I'm reminded of the confidence I feel when I base my decisions on love and grace. I am confident that the church's role in America will not depend upon our buildings or upon our programs or upon our plans. I am confident in none of those things. I am confident, however, in the people who God has chosen to redeem the church by its witness: whether it's masked, outdoor, online, or at home. 

As you plan this August: for school or work or family or friends, here is my prayer for you

A Prayer for Planners

Lord Jesus, sometimes this calendar has taken too much power over my life. I've scheduled myself to within an inch of my being, and now as those schedules have fallen away, I'm left wondering what the future might hold. I'm tempted to reschedule or postpone or try to reclaim a life that has been forever changed. I want to satisfy myself and everyone in my life, but I've learned long ago that that is impossible.

So Jesus, as I plan, remind me that you do not bless my work or my schedule but you bless me. As I plan, remind me to value my relationships. Remind me that time is a gift. Remind me to stay present in each moment, each day, and not to wish them away for a future that is fleeting and uncertain. 

As we plan together, Lord Jesus, fill us with your spirit of hope, creativity, and patience. Help us find new ways to connect to one another: authentic ways that give us space to be honest with each other. Let us pray over our plans and seek your blessing. Let us seek to address the needs of each person involved. Let us not only privilege the powerful or the influential, but all people in our community.

Lord Jesus as we plan, remind us to leave room for spontaneity and Spirit-filled surprises. Let us plan with trust and hope as well as honesty and realism. Let us plan to protect the vulnerable and leave space for alternative options.

Lord Jesus, this pandemic has not been fun or easy. We have watched and experienced great suffering and death. In this time, remind us to discern what is most important and essential, and spend our time there. May we do nothing for the world's approval, but everything that we might love you and love one another.

In Jesus' name I pray,

AMEN


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