Living between trapezes—waiting out the coronavirus pandemic
By Rev. John Zehring
March 26, 2020
“And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” (Psalms 39:7 NASB)
We are waiting. We are in uncharted territory, our entire planet trapped between ordinary life and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. It feels like we are living between trapezes. Having let go the secure bar of the first trapeze, we hang in mid-air, awaiting the arrival of the next. The next bar is not in sight. We anticipate this will be a very long wait, and we are getting tired of waiting. Politicians predict that the worst is yet to come and warn that the virus will soon be coming to a neighbor or family member near you. Nearly everything is closed. The economy is in free fall. Numerous articles or TV segments have offered their ten suggestions for creative things to do while we wait, but the fact is that we are still waiting and we are not very patient at it. A friend posted on Facebook: “The truth is, it’s not so boring at home. But it’s interesting how one bag of rice has 7,456 grains and another has 7,489.” Waiting seems reduced to counting the grains of rice in a bag. What else to do while waiting?
We are waiting. We are in uncharted territory, our entire planet trapped between ordinary life and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. It feels like we are living between trapezes. Having let go the secure bar of the first trapeze, we hang in mid-air, awaiting the arrival of the next. The next bar is not in sight.
Who likes to wait, especially when mid-air between trapezes? You want to do something. Humans are naturally inclined to take action, to initiate, to do… even if it is the wrong thing. Indeed, the New Testament book is not named the Book of Wait, but the Book of Acts. Many of us are not good at waiting. We want to see the ten-day forecast, the timeline, the strategic plan, the goal and the expected outcomes. We scan the news constantly for data on the virus which might inform our decision-making. We want to see more of the map. We want a GPS to display a picture of the road to follow and a voice to tell us where to turn.
Waiting upon the Lord is not what you have in mind. Waiting feels passive, responsive and reactive. Acting feels proactive. And yet, our feelings are not always our best guide, for often our best course of action is to wait… “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage…” (Psalms 27:14). People of faith have an advantage, for they have been schooled in waiting upon the Lord:
“And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” (Psalms 39:7 NASB)
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” (Psalms 130:5)
After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples were living between trapezes. They wondered what they were supposed to do. Jesus answered that they were supposed to wait: “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4). Wait. That is not the answer they hoped for. Waiting is not likely to pop into the forefront of your mind when facing anxiety. Just the opposite. It feels like you should be doing something.
The prophet Habakkuk did not know what to do… and he’s supposed to know because he is a prophet. He ought to be able to advise people what to do and how to act in times between trapeze bars. So, Habakkuk goes up on the ramparts to wait for an answer from God. Ramparts are walls, like the wall surrounding a walled city or the wall around a castle. Habakkuk needed direction, did not have a map, and so he went up to keep watch on the rampart and to wait upon the Lord, “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:1-4). Again, wait.
People of faith have experience waiting upon God. Adelaide A. Pollard, who wrote the hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” embraced the idea of waiting upon God,
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
While I am waiting… between trapezes… waiting and trusting. Actually, the word “waiting” is a good substitution word in the Bible. When you come to the word “wait,” substitute the word “trust.” In the Bible, they are synonyms. When facing an unknown future, which is true for all of us with the coronavirus threat, remind yourself that waiting and trusting is frequently the best response. In so much of your life you have been taught to take initiative and to act. When between trapezes, learn that it is not completely up to you but to you and God. Live by faith.
When facing an unknown future, which is true for all of us with the coronavirus threat, remind yourself that waiting and trusting is frequently the best response. In so much of your life you have been taught to take initiative and to act. When between trapezes, learn that it is not completely up to you but to you and God. Live by faith.
Waiting, or trusting in God, is well-portrayed in the beloved verse from Isaiah 40:31: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Those who wait for the Lord… those who trust in God… same intent. To wait is to trust.
At my cottage on the coast of Maine, I have an eagle tree where majestic American bald eagles land and sit for a while, keeping a watchful eye over the bay. Mine is not the tree where they live but they visit it all the time, swooping down to land on one of the tall pine’s bare branches. I have been watching the eagles land and take off for a quarter century. My wife and I can be sitting right next to the tree and the eagle will come and go as if we were not even there. We have watched them raise their young. We have heard their cry echo across the bay. We have been awakened by a family of eagles at five in the morning when they land in our tree. The eagle lands in the tree with a flappy flutter. Then it sits there as it preens and primps itself. And then… you can see it coming… it starts to get restless, it moves about a bit, and with a ceremonial harrumph, it mounts up with wings, jumps out of the tree away from the branches, and leaps heavenward as it climbs to the heights where it will soar.
Isaiah must have had an eagle tree too, because he described the behavior perfectly and used it as a metaphor for one of the greatest truths about God and about you: Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. The Contemporary English Version translates the verse “Those who trust the Lord will find new strength.”
We need new strength. So here we are, waiting, trusting, amid a global pandemic. The waiting causes stress. Any major change in your life can cause stress. Two changes at the same time can triple your anxiety. That is when a renewal of strength is especially treasured. So, we wait upon God as we pray “Mold me and make me after Thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.”
The Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”