We all experience moments where life suddenly goes sideways. These are the times where we think we are headed in one direction, anticipating how the day or the upcoming week or month or year will unfold. But then, something flips those plans upside down. It might be a worrisome phone call that awakens us in the middle of the night. Or when something interferes with our career aspirations. A relationship explodes. A loved one is given a scary health diagnosis. A promising opportunity evaporates. Someone dies. Or, how the COVID virus has de-railed so many of the expectations and plans we had for 2020.
Last spring was exhilarating. When my book, When Grief Descends: Suffering, Consolation, and the Book of Job, was first released on Amazon last spring it became a #1 bestseller in 11 categories. I participated in a number of forums and podcasts that allowed me to promote and discuss the book. I wrote guest posts for a number of blogs. And I was honored to teach a class on loss and grief and the Book of Job to a doctoral divinity class at a local university.
But all of a sudden, life was interrupted. The pandemic ramped up and we all faced major restrictions. My fibromyalgia flared-up. One of our sons faced a return of his Crohn’s disease that necessitated numerous hospital stays and eventually major surgery. And a dear family friend, a father to three very young children, was struck by a car and killed while he was riding his bike.
By necessity, my focus zeroed in on what was immediate and essential, and my priorities were shuffled.
Suddenly, I had little time, energy, or desire to write for my blog or to engage with social media. Our daily walks ground to a halt. The restrictions stopped us from socializing with friends and extended family. Our travel plans were canceled. And the box containing my newly published books remained unopened in our study.
But as we have gradually adapted to the COVID restrictions and things are stabilizing, I feel like I am re-surfacing. I have started tidying up my desk and sorting through my emails. I am revisiting some old projects. I feel an urge to write. I have signed up for a winter course in my seminary program (a course that focuses on the women in the New Testament). And, I finally unwrapped the sealed box of books that had been sitting on my desk.
As I opened the box and held copies of my book, I reflected on how unexpected events alter the passage of our lives. I wrote about this in my book, where I conceptualized how these unexpected events force us to pivot. How these disruptions propel us out of prosperous, summer seasons into gruelling winter seasons, before we cycle back into spring and renewal.
There are also many other ways that scholars and theologians visualize and describe these life phases and transitions. I appreciate how Walter Bruggemann describes them in his book, Spirituality of the Psalms. His model describes the stages, and the movements between the stages as flowing from orientation to dis-orientation to re-orientation. Richard Rohr in his book, The Wisdom Pattern, envisions these life phases as transitioning from a sense of order to disorder to reorder. He goes on to suggest that it is the movement through these phases that contributes to our human and spiritual development.
The author of Ecclesiastes beautifully captures this ebb and flow of life in their poem, “A Time For Everything.”1 The ancient biblical poem highlights the ever-changing, complex, roller-coaster nature of life, emphasizing how everything has a season and there is a time for every matter under heaven:
Everything Has Its Time
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Regardless of how you personally choose to visualize or label the moments that interrupt the flow of our lives and cause change, the key is how these images help to convey that we will all experience both prosperity and adversity. Also, whenever we are in times of mourning and weeping this imagery offers hope in the possibility of our healing, restoration, and renewal.
I acknowledge just how challenging this unpredictable year has been. We have all experienced losses that interrupted our lives and forced us to change direction. The grief can be overwhelming and traumatizing. But I am convinced that if we are willing to enter into and process our individual and collective grief, we will emerge on the other side. We will shift out of a time of disorientation into a time of reorientation, from disorder to reorder, and emerge from this long, hard winter season into the warmth of summer.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NRSV