In South Africa, and in the United States, the two countries that I am bound to in my heart and life are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
Last night, my husband John read that Idaho, where the pandemic had not been as harsh, had over 500 new cases yesterday.
In response, John surmised, “We are not going to get out of here for a very long time.”
Since our decision to remain a short while longer in the United States due to the coronavirus outbreak, 120 days have passed. As I do the math, four months have come and gone since we made that prudent decision to stay put – mistakenly thinking the coronavirus wave would peter out at some point. We know we made the best decision for our family to stay. However, what we believed was going to be a short continuation to our home assignment in the United States is morphing into a cataclysmic storm all about the world.
We are grateful for the safe, daylight basement space that we are living in during our day upon day and month after month stay. This underground life is a gift. Especially so in that our basic needs are being met. We have shelter. We have food. We have water. We have health. John’s and my marriage is strong. Overall, our kids are handling our shelter-in-place life as well as to be expected in a never-planned-for pandemic. Our family has our moments of angst, but we continue to work through these times. These life-giving blessings are not lost upon me.
Another regenerative gift I am dependent upon as we live life below the surface is reading God’s word. When I dive low into spaces of emotional malaise and mental trepidation, it’s God’s word that meets me where I am and helps me.
I won’t say my life is the same as those I read about in Scripture, but there are times I relate to the hardships and struggles of people within the Bible narrative. As I read Lamentations, I was reminded of the life of Jeremiah.
At the young age of twenty years-old, Jeremiah, the son of a priest from a small town in Judah, was called to become a prophet of God. The Lord sought Jeremiah because of Jeremiah’s resolute courage and strength of heart. The Lord asked Jeremiah to speak to God’s people. Yet, God cautioned Jeremiah that the nation of Judah would not listen to him and deny the truth of his words. For over forty years, Jeremiah shared messages from God to a people who would ignore him, ridicule him, slight him, and condemn him. This was a dark, discouraging time for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was real and authentic about what was happening in the nation of Judah and in his own life. He poured out his sorrow, distress, misery and mourning. Yet, no one cared. In fact, Zedekiah, the king, and his princes were fed up with Jeremiah’s prophetic, doom-and-gloom narrative. They considered Jeremiah’s words to be harmful, rather than helpful. To extinguish his disruptive, annoying voice, they bound Jeremiah and took him away to the House of Machiah. There, they lowered Jeremiah into the Pit of Malchiah – most likely a deep, miry and muddy cistern meant to become Jeremiah’s grave due to exposure, disease, dehydration, or starvation.
In his own, below-the-ground, beyond-hope situation, Jeremiah is bereft of his voice and his God-given purpose.
What does Jeremiah do?
Without strength, without joy, without purpose, without expectation for even the most basic necessities of food, shelter, and water, Jeremiah looks up from his pit of despondency.
Jeremiah cries for help from his God.
I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
New International Version, Lamentations 3: 55-58
This prayer of Jeremiah offers encouragement to you and to me – in our own shelter-in-place pandemic scenarios. We may not be positioned in a dungeon or pit, but we can relate to Jeremiah’s struggles as we are all stuck somewhere right now.
We may feel like we are unseen and unheard.
We may be wrestling with hopelessness.
We may be struggling with loneliness.
We may be fighting depression.
We may have had our voice extinguished.
We may be grappling with insecurity and doubt.
We may have had our purpose and direction altered in a significant way.
We may feel downcast and disappointed that our life hasn’t yielded much promise.
We may be waiting and waiting and waiting for a breakthrough.
We may have had someone betray us in recent days and because of our shelter-in-place life, secrets are seeping out from crack-filled walls of deceit.
We may feel like we are all alone in time, space, and circumstance.
So, what do we do?
Will we look up and pray for relief?
Jeremiah’s prayer was a breath emanating from his soul. When he cried for relief, Jeremiah was asking for something specific. Relief comes from the Hebrew transliterated word, r@vachach. R@vachach means to be refreshed, to find respite, and to have space to breathe. From his place of deepest distress, Jeremiah was panting for freedom. He needed immediate help from God. He didn’t have the strength to pray aloud. Living in an existence without food, without water, and without physical comfort and care, all Jeremiah could do was inhale and exhale.
Yet with each inhalation, Jeremiah breathed in the grace and mercy of God.
With each exhalation, Jeremiah poured out his petitions and his praises.
And even in his darkest hour of need, when no one else noticed, paid attention, or attended to Jeremiah, God did. Jeremiah experienced the strengthening care of his God as God came near.
Jeremiah’s God heard his prayers.
Jeremiah’s God silenced his fears.
Jeremiah’s God offered him help.
These three encouragements blessed Jeremiah and enabled him to keep living, keep hoping, and keep seeking his Lord and Savior. One day, Jeremiah would be pulled from this Pit of Malchiah. It didn’t happen on this particular day, but a day of salvation would come.
His struggle between fear and hope was met with God’s assurance.
My dear friends, our life situations may be different than the prophet Jeremiah’s pit experience. However, in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves, we can still pray – even if our prayer is just a whisper, an utterance, or a groan. We can take encouragement that our God is attentive to us.
The Lord will hear our prayer.
The Lord will silence our fears.
The Lord will offer his help and respond to us – right where we are – to bring us to a space to breathe, to be refreshed, and to find respite and care.
Let me pray for us.
We take courage from your word in this uncertain, difficult time. For our family, we remain in a basement waiting for international travel bans to lift. We seek you for what you desire of us here and for the future.
Father, others of us are in our own trying, faith-stretching situations where we can hardly breathe. In fact, our whispers and groans may be weak and faint because our despair and disappointment are heavy upon us. Father God, draw near to us. Be our peace. Be our strength. Be our joy. Show us the way forward. Silence our fears and be our hope for a new day. We are grateful we can pray to you, Lord. Please hear our prayer. Meet us here. We need space to breathe and find our relief in You.
Image retrieved from Bible Wall Papers