Our congregation published an Advent Devotion Book that you can find here. In it, you’ll find a short excerpt from this post. I wasn’t thinking Advent when I wrote this in September, but it makes sense to reshape our worry into longing for Christ’s return when we will see the end of the story play out.
Walking through the grocery store, I heard a ping, then another. I looked toward the sound and saw a woman grabbing her phone, looking at the screen, then smiling. She put the phone down and continued pushing her cart down the aisle. I saw her several more times as I made my way through the store. Each time, it was because I heard the ping first. Her phone was calling her attention; it caught mine, too.
As I pulled into campus the other day, I drove past a half a dozen teenagers who had just finished rowing practice on the river that flows behind our house. Waiting for their rides, they sat in a silent clump, all hunched over their phones.
I get lost in my phone, too. In fact, as I sat next to my mom yesterday, watching a football game, I was scrolling mindlessly — looking at social media, checking email, Googling to fact-check.
We’re on our phones all the time. We’re always taking in information– seeing what’s going on in the world– trying not to miss anything. We read, we post, we comment. Much of our daily life revolves around our phones.
I’ve been thinking about our phone culture over the last few days as I’ve noticed a pulsing chorus in the background of my days. From a collection of very diverse voices I am hearing a resounding cacophony: The world we live in today..so much violence… fires… racism… sexism…crime… poverty… corruption…. what can we do? It’s terrible…
And you know, the fact that we are continuously scrolling through our cell phones (or sitting in front of our televisions), is related to this narrative –this growing societal anxiety. If we are frantic — about the environment, crime, money, scandal — then we continue to scroll. When we scroll, our anxiety increases. What can be done? It’s terrible! Terrible! Terrible!
The cycle is self-perpetuating.
And we’re becoming a culture of reeling, hand-wringing, panicking worriers, chanting with the masses, “It’s no use! We’re doomed! This is surely the end of the world!”
And, to be fair, the issues we face are real. and significant. and scary.
I’ve found myself reeling and worrying, too.
Friday morning, as I was writing out three pages of mind-dump, I cried out, “Lord, help! Lord, lead! Lord, please!”
Not long after, I was listening to a sermon centered on the text in Exodus 1-2 where Pharaoh orders that the Israelite slaves be beaten and that their babies be murdered, a time when certainly the people were reeling and panicking. As I pictured the slaughter of innocents, I heard our pastor share these words:
We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.”NT Wright
I got kinda choked up, and I leaned in.
As I listened to the rest of the sermon, I remembered how God had shown up for the Israelites, how He had miraculously delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, how he had saved even little baby Moses as he bobbed down the stream in a basket made of reeds. I felt a peace wash over me as I remembered that the God who rescued Moses and the Israelites is the same God who hears me as I “cry out” on the pages of my notebook.
The same God who heard David and Hannah and Mary and Peter.
I am part of a bigger story — a story that was written before the beginning of time, a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
An end! Guys, we already know the end!
Last weekend, my granddaughter wanted me to watch a “scary movie”. When I told her that I don’t like scary movies, she said, “It’s ok, Oma, I will sit next to you and cover your eyes if you get really scared.” So, figuring that I’d probably be ok if a four year old was coaching me into bravery, I agreed. Throughout the movie, whenever a scary part came up, she put her little hand on my glasses so that I wouldn’t get too frightened. Toward the end of the movie, the scariest part of all, she narrated for me ahead of time exactly what was going to happen so that I would know in advance that everything was going to turn out ok.
And guys, we already know that even if it gets pretty darn scary, it is all going to be ok in the end.
“See, Oma, I told you!”
Sometimes we need to return to the story, remind ourselves how it all turns out, where the story has come from, where it is going, and what our part within it ought to be.
So I listened to that sermon. Twice. (Click here if you’d like to hear it.)
Then, I turned on Pandora and heard these lyrics:
The weapon may be formed, but it won’t prosper.“See a Victory” Elevation Worship
When the darkness falls, it won’t prevail.
Cause the God I serve knows only how to triumph;
My God will never fail.”
Hundreds of times during the day, I check my phone — for texts, for calls, for updated news, for weather reports. Just once every morning, I return to scripture as I drive into work. And I wonder why I feel a bit unsettled and somewhat frantic. My dosage is off. I’m taking in too much frenzy and not enough fact. And when I do that, I can forget.
I can forget that:
I was lost, ’til You called me out by name“Garments” Cory Asbury
And I was down, ’til You picked me up again
And I was wrong, ’til Your love it made me right
I was dead, ’til You sang me back to life.”
When I return to the story — not only the story of scripture, but the story of God’s faithfulness in my own life — when I see where it has come from and where it is going, I start to wonder what my role within this grand story might be. I wonder if my role is to join the masses in frantic scrolling, hand-wringing, and worrying, or if it is to continue to return to the story, to remember that I already know the ending, and to live a life a hopefulness — a life that knows that times get dark and scary, but it’s going to be ok in the end.
Because guys, we live within a story that has been crafted by the Author and Creator of life. He has designed for each of us a life of hope and significance. Each of us matters before Him, and we have the great privilege to live into that truth and to share that truth with all of our fellow scrolling, hand-wringing sojourners.
We are not a people without hope.
We are a people who know the story of how God has been kind and merciful to His people over and over again — in the direst of circumstances: famine, flood, subjugation, tyranny. We have seen Him provide for us, connect to us, and lead us.
We know how the story ends.
Death is all around us“This Dust” Kip Fox
We are not afraid
Written is the story
Empty is the grave.”
Let’s keep returning to the story; let’s remind ourselves that we’re gonna be ok.