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In the midst of uncertainty and dark times, where do we look for wisdom to heal our churches that have suffered so, continue to intentionally love people, and improve our own relationship with God?
My friend Aaron Winner is a gifted worship leader and the kind of teacher every kid wishes they had. He lives in Williamston, South Carolina with his lovely wife, Jennifer, and their twin toddlers. Besides being ‘dada’, teaching eighth grade science & social studies, and leading worship at his church… in his spare time, he blogs. I’m so pleased to have him sharing with us here today.
Frozen 2. IMHO — The lesser of the two Frozens.
I know. I’ve lost some of your already because – A. You think Frozen 2 is better than the original or – B. You despise or cringe at the Frozen genre all together, much less reading a post that begins this way.
While I could easily fill a blog with an argument of why Frozen is some of the best storytelling of all time, or list bullet points of why Frozen 2 is the lesser of the two, you must know that Frozen 1 & 2 are both staples in our household. We probably watch a little bit (and full disclosure, some days, a lotta bit) of Frozen several times a week because it settles toddler rage, let’s us catch our breath, and gives us snuggle time. With my watch count probably somewhere in the mid 20s, I feel l know both movies pretty intimately. The lines and lyrics invade my subconscious all the livelong day and cause me to chuckle, to feel a bit annoyed, or to contemplate their presence in my mind, as they do today, inspiring these words.
In my most recent viewings, there is one scene still catching my attention after the constant repeat of airplays.
The darkness of uncertain times
At first glance, I would have to say part of the story seems oddly dark and depressing considering its presence in a Disney Movie. <Spoilers follow> Anna, after recently losing a close friend, is coming to terms that her situation may never improve; there isn’t a way back to “normal.”
In fact, if the story is ever to move forward, she may have to do things that will make her life more miserable altogether or even completely forfeit. As she considers the weight of this moment, the challenge and uncertainty in her life, she sings a stark operatic lament, “The Next Right Thing”.
This song echoes the bemoaning of psalmists as they consider what to do in seemingly dark times, when the presence of God seems to be elusive, His guiding compass in our life, broken. The lyrics are as follows:
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb.
The life I knew is over, the lights are out. Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb.
I follow you around, I always have; but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find;
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down.
– The Next Right Thing, Frozen 2
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
– Psalm 42:9-11a
We live in uncertain times
Undoubtedly, these words resonate in this present moment more than ever before in recent history.
“We truly live in uncertain times.” is the year-long anthem that has rung from the mouth of every newscast, political figure, employer, and parent as they try to come to terms with the situation we are presently in.
It should be of note that true lament continues for Christians across the world who face great dangers and persecution outside of a pandemic on the daily, but, there is a great doubt infecting the lives of every Christian body across all boundaries.
The reality is that a return to “normal” is increasingly fading, even though there are signs of a slow approach to a light at the end of the tunnel. I am optimistic; I am hopeful. But even if all the disease, distancing, and restriction ended this very day, we will long live with the lasting effects of the struggles that have been the past year.
For many, they have loved ones lost, their job is gone, or their family and friends have rifted over debate. Even those living with the most minimal of restrictions or walk about relatively unscathed have an altered psychology about touch, distance, and disease. The church finds itself in the most precarious place of preserving life and preaching eternity.
What are we to risk or to do? How are we to gather and to study, and to edify? Will the church be able to weather the losses, much less grow or thrive?
So this is where I find myself, as I consider this moment. A few disclaimers – My family has had work. We have had health. We haven’t lost anyone close to us, and I pray we won’t. Yet, at times, I still feel like I, the least of the affected, am still ambling around as part of the walking wounded. My mind has spent an incredible amount of time debating appropriate responses over the course of the last twelve months. I’ve come up short, empty, and more confused as I consider what life is supposed to be like in the indefinite pause of what I knew it was.
Where exactly is my direction as I consider my walk on the straight and narrow? How do Christians get clear cut answers about what is right and wrong in these seemingly God-forsaken uncertain times?
While I have read case studies, listened to sermons, and have been in debate, in any instance of “I don’t understand” it is truly best to look to Jesus Christ as my example as a means of wrestling with what to do.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish.
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
but a tiny voice whispers in my mind “You are lost, hope is gone; But you must go on and do the next right thing.”
How Jesus did the next right thing
Jesus makes many calculated decisions throughout his ministry on where to be and what to do based upon his prophetic knowledge of the good book (or more like the good scroll at this point in history) and intentionally seeking His Father’s will. Yet, without going into great theological detail or debate, it seems that the gospels make it clear that Jesus wasn’t omnipotent (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52) like his Father. God did not reveal every exact step that was in store for Jesus, nor did Jesus have to understand every element of what was happening in that moment, to do “the next right thing,” moving people closer to the Kingdom of God. An equally melodic tune, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” are the words of Jesus as he talks about the anxiety of going “into the unknown” – see what I did there, Frozen people.
But break it down to this next breath, this next step; This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night. Stumbling blindly toward the light.
And do the next right thing. And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice and do the next right thing.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matt 6:25-27, 33
Below I have collected some of the uncertain situations of Jesus and how they might guide and direct our thoughts as we continue to heal our churches that have suffered so, and continue to intentionally love people, and improve our own relationship with God.
The next right thing: uncover your eyes
As a teacher at a school that has been in-person this entire school year, I have endlessly and exhaustedly reminded students about the proper way to wear their masks. Cover your mouth AND nose.
In a small act of defiance and sarcasm a student might pull a neck gaiter all the way to their scalp to cover the entirety of their face. I can’t help but chuckle on the inside because honestly, it’s kind of how I feel sometimes too.
This isn’t a discussion about the efficacy of neck gaiters or how to properly wear your mask, with exception to the important fact that you shouldn’t cover your eyes with your mask. While much of expression is tucked away behind a piece of cloth, there is much to take in with the remaining senses.
Although Jesus wasn’t teaching to a crowd that was six feet apart with face coverings, he had great compassion for them. He moved through them to heal the hurting, helpless, and harassed because they had no shepherd (Matt 9:36). Some of the accusations of today state that we have become like sheep with the way we blindly follow rules, protocols, and orders. We were sheep long before now, and we all are in desperate need of a Good Shepherd.
The next right thing: Make sure that your mask is down far enough so you can see. You MUST look beyond today’s struggle to deliver the healing message of Jesus Christ.
Behind these masks (physical or metaphorical) there are so many who are hurting, helpless, and harassed – the harvest is becoming more plentiful than ever, and the workers are fewer and fewer. SEE them, and have compassion.
The next right thing: remove the distance
After a long journey, Jesus sits down at a well for a moment to wet his whistle, and take the weight off his feet. In this brief moment of peace (because the disciples were in town, doing a bit of shopping) he cannot help but see the need of a woman that is directly in front of him he asks for a drink.
In what could have easily been a dismissed conversation because of a social distance created between two ethnic groups, Jesus gives voice to very real and intimate things that are happening in her life, unconcerned about his reputation or social hierarchies.
By being physically distant in our own time, there has been seemingly less opportunities for many to share. Social cues (and sometimes even identities) are hidden away in masks.
While it may be true that we are worried about offending, or even endangering, those around us, it is equally true that there is much suffering that is happening outside the realm of disease.
Tear down the barrier.
Engage someone in real conversation? Absolutely. Remove your masks? Probably not, but you know what– Maybe. Give someone a hug? That is a real possibility. Jesus finds a way to do it with words alone in this instance, but he does get a bit more “physical” in others.
Rest and preserving life are both fickle, temporary situations if they are without the saving knowledge of the living water.
Don’t let yourself grow distant. Be NEAR them to deliver the gospel.
The next right thing: self-isolate
Both Jesus, and Anna (never thought I’d combine those two) determine their next step in their story is detrimental to preserving their life. Both spend time in quiet contemplation before this moment, but there is a stark contrast.
The reflections of Anna are a monologue; the reflections of Jesus are a dialogue.
As I implore students to search through their notes & materials at school, I often say, “you cannot arrive at an answer that isn’t already your head.” Philosophically, I mean, if a problem’s answer, or the tools to solve the problem do not exist in the framework of your mind already, contemplation does you no good. It causes undue stress and frustration, and you achieve nothing except time lost.
On many occasions, Jesus seeks out the will of God in prayer. This constant dialogue connects him to the will of the Creator.
There is revelation and assurance that comes through prayer.
Jesus does not become self-empowered, but empowered by the Holy Spirit to heal and live according to the will of God, but ultimately, to sacrifice his life.
Quarantining your mind from the worry, the doubt, the uncertainty, and bringing these cares and concerns to God, will allow us to live at peace, even in the midst of unrest, even in the midst of sacrifice, and even in the midst of disease and death.
Prayer should be the default mode when we find we are no longer on God’s path or there is a mist or fog ahead. God will reveal the next right thing to us, although, it may not necessarily align with the civic conscription of the place and time of which we live.
God is ready to hear our song of lament (see: Lamentations). God is ready to hear our confessional ballad. God is ready to hear our anthem of praise. He is not a distant God, but drawing ever-closer as we consult Him in this time, and this most certainly is the next right thing.
Even now, as I write the final words of this blog I realize that I might be adding to the noise, providing just another discordant sound to the cacophony of voices telling you what to do as you continue to live in the present, but place your hope and trust in the future, so I’ll leave you with these understandings, that do not rely upon watching Frozen, consulting a thesaurus, or understanding a catchy analogy:
God calls us all to share his Kingdom.
There is only ONE protocol that will save your life –> putting your faith in Jesus Christ.
Look to God, speak His words, and continue to consult Him for His will in your life.
The immediate future is not clear, and it may never be again, but a single moment in his promised kingdom HAS NOT CHANGED. To live in the present and to live in the future you need only to do the next right thing.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:11
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish. ….
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever!. – Psalm 22:22-26