‘I’m not sure I want to face this all again… I felt quite at home during lockdown…’
If you haven’t felt this way yourself, I’m sure you have heard it from someone else. The easing of restrictions and slow return to a semblance of the life we once knew brings a range of responses. And let’s be honest, we’re conflicted! We want to see friends and family, get a haircut, have a coffee and go out for a meal. But to navigate travel, go into shops, meet a group face to face…it will all be different. Do I need to wear a mask? Are there different procedures for everything? What if I step out of line and annoy people in the supermarket? Can I still handle a conversation? People will see that I look older! They’ll notice I’m nervous.
Such experiences have earned a label – re-entry anxiety. It’s the fear of change as we are able to socialise, shop and travel again, and we could add to the list re-entering church and ministry situations. This fear involves a crisis in confidence, second-guessing our decisions and competence, or questioning and over-thinking how we’re perceived by others. There can even be an experience of ‘sensory overload’ as sights, sounds and smells that we may have been largely sheltered from assault our perceptions again.
But what do you do when you’re lying in bed at night ruminating over whether you still have it in you to be involved in the church’s children’s ministry? Or you’re annoyed at yourself for getting wound up about the home group? Or the prospect of working back in the office again fills you with dread? You’re already weary and depleted. Where do you turn?
An ancient messenger once spoke to such people:
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
They were facing a return from exile. And Isaiah places before these exhausted people the offer of renewed energy to allow them to soar. By waiting upon God. But what does it look like to wait upon God?
1. You behold
In verses 9-10 of the chapter Isaiah cries, ‘Behold your God!’ Waiting upon God starts with seeing a God who is very big. He holds out his hand and the oceans of the earth are filling a crease in his palm! Then you slowly look up from his hand to him…and his enormity fills your gaze. He’s an expansive, mighty God: ‘Behold your God!’ In the original text there’s no ‘behold’. It’s just: ‘God!’ Isaiah wants us to get to the point where God is so before us, that we don’t even need the verb – he’s so big in your life that you can do nothing but behold him! When we’re anxious, our fears can dominate. This kind of anxiety often needs the support of others, sometimes even professional help: but ultimately Isaiah encourages us to let God be our vision. The God who, many years after Isaiah, came to earth as Jesus – our Saviour and King.
2. You shift weight as you wait
Waiting. Who enjoys it? It’s ok when you’re waiting for something good – you look ahead with expectation. But whether it’s for the next bus or that order from Amazon, waiting means you’re depending on someone else to act. The weight of your trust is upon others. And as we wait upon God, we rest our weight upon Another. As you lie in bed at night, take your worry – about masks, energy levels, what others think – and shift the weight of that responsibility onto One who carries the weight of the earth, and your life, in his palm. ‘Lord, you are with me and my Helper as I face that task again. You are the One carrying that situation. Help me to trust that your strength will be there for me.’
3. You sprout wings
As we place the weight of all that we face upon the incomparable God, an amazing thing happens. You notice stumps form on your shoulders. You begin to sprout wings. They’re stiff at first. They’ve been cooped up for a while so feel vulnerable and shaky. But you eventually spread your wings again. Not all at once either, just step by step. These wings take time to regain strength. It might look like… a shopping trip, a meet-up with friends, getting back to the office, facing meetings again. Bit by bit you plan, you organise, you act, you go, you meet, you visit, you pastor. You mount up with wings like an eagle, and the Lord is the wind beneath those wings.
As you lie in bed with re-entry anxiety buzzing around your mind, God does promise to be our strength. The faint, weary and exhausted shall run and walk. He’ll do it. Let’s together wait upon him.