When I think back to where I was at a year ago, I remember writing my final thesis for my degree and referencing the pandemic as if it were an event in the past, presuming that by the time I finished my degree a few months later, we’d all laugh at the panic and paranoia we lived in for a little while, chuckle at the sight of masks and hand sanitizer, and forget what it felt like to give people copious amounts of space in public.
A year ago, I was so sure I’d figured it out. “Love is not a sacrifice,” I adamantly declared to everyone around me. “Love has to be a joy. We sacrifice because we love, like God sacrificed for us. But love itself is not a sacrifice.”
I’ve thought a lot about love this year. I think I grew up with the mindset that when time passed and love got old and was more about serving and giving than feelings, it wasn’t love anymore, it was obligation. Love should be thrilling, electric, the most natural and easy thing in the world. But now, I’m not so sure about that.
Because in a world that screams “never settle,” that’s exactly what God did. He looked at us, A bunch of broken, selfish, messed-up sinners, and said, “Them.” “Those are the ones I want.”
Early on a Saturday morning, I cradle a mug of coffee in my hands and sit in silence as the world begins to wake up.
The earth is turning cold and the pale blue sky hints at autumn’s arrival, and here I sit — watching the leaves blow outside my window and feeling things churn inside of me.
There is something about October that brings me to mourn, and there is something about this mourning that brings me to my knees. Whether by the change of the seasons or because the world seems to still be spinning slowly, I feel the pangs of loss, and I quietly grieve, telling God all of the things that I miss.
“Do you think you see Jesus as a lifeboat, or a luxury?” My friend and I are driving, slowly picking apart the way we’ve seen Jesus preached in our communities, churches, and young adults groups. “Because sometimes, I think we miss telling people why Jesus is so incredible in the first place.”
It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, and she and I are falling into our rhythm of long drives and strong coffees and deep talks, tumbling into deep and hard and holy conversations interspersed with laughter and good stories – my favorite. We’ve both noticed this pattern – Jesus being preached as if He’s a jetpack to make life better, if we want Him.
This is a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, curious as to how much this particular condition affects others beyond myself. I define pre-grieving as the act of mourning in advance outcomes that are not guaranteed. Or, in other words, giving a voice to anxiety where it has no place; being sad in advance over a future that may or may not ever come.
More often than not, in response to this question, I hear, “Oh yes. I pre-grieve all the time. I thought I was the only one.”
As I tumble out of bed, I glance at my phone and frown at the time. It’s later than I wanted, but I’m up now. I look at myself in the mirror as I put my hair in a scrunchie on top of my head – the bags under my eyes are beginning to resemble suitcases. I sigh.
My first coherent thought is to brew a cup of coffee, and so I do – the first good cup of coffee I’ve had in three weeks. This morning routine provides me with a small shred of steady familiarity; every sip is reassurance.
From where I sit, I have the perspective of a gnat. I am selfish and spoiled by nature, and I know this. I miss my friends. I miss my life. I miss normal. I miss lunch dates and late-night ice cream runs and Bible studies with my community. I miss road trips. I miss coffee shops. I know people are dying and yet I am a helpless bystander grasping at anything to numb the feeling of powerlessness.
C. S. Lewis wrote that to love is to be vulnerable.
The full quote is a beautiful one. It’s one I’ve held onto for a while, one that reminds me I have to give up safe in order to receive something so much better. But that doesn’t mean vulnerability is easy, by any means. And slowly, I am peeling back the layers of my life to reveal the fear and the imperfection, and I am learning to find joy.
“How do you reconcile the two? The goodness of God with the pain and brokenness of life. How do you make sense of it all?”
It’s after midnight, and the three of us are sitting around on the floor of our room, Bibles in our laps, honesty hour for each of us. After a long day of travel and unexpected experiences, we’re exhausted and cutting right to the heart of what we’ve all been walking through.
“I guess…I don’t know exactly. I think I often tend to believe that God doesn’t have to be good to me to still be good.”
I pause for a moment, and gather my thoughts.
“Almost this: I know I don’t deserve His love, so I see the love He does give me as a beautiful, wonderful gift, and everything else as extra. I don’t think that’s right or healthy, but that’s how I tend to reconcile it. He doesn’t have to be good to me in my mind for me to still believe He’s good.”