One night, a few weeks into our Coronavirus lock-down, I lay in bed, kept awake by an avalanche of concerns, worries, and frustrations brought on by the many circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications. As I wrestled my anxiety, an internal conversation went round and round in my head about all these things. Thankfully, it finally occurred to me to turn my internal dialogue into a conversation with God, to say to him the things cascading through my head. In the dark, I complained to God. I told him about my annoyance with the conspiracy theories and fear mongering clogging social media. I pleaded for people out of work and my children who couldn’t see their friends. I asked his help for friends who had lost loved ones to the virus. I confessed my own fear of the virus, for my family members, and as a person with asthma, for myself. I petulantly griped about social distancing restrictions: I miss my friends; I want to worship at my church; and why the heck do parks and pools have to be closed all summer? When we feel anxious or afraid, we can turn those emotions into prayer. As I spoke, my spirit lightened; drifting off to sleep, I thought of things for which I could be thankful.
One thing to be thankful for is having a God willing to hear our complaints. In Psalm 142:1-2, David laments, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.” Just as one of my children may say to me, “I’m scared,” I can say to God, “I am afraid. Where are you in what’s happening?” Some people have the idea that God doesn’t want us to complain to him, that to complain is to be unthankful and blame God for our situation. To be sure, God became angry with his people’s grumbling after he had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 16). Their complaining became so bad that he judged that many would not go into the land he had promised them because of it (Numbers 14). It was the manner of their grumbling to which God found fault. They accused Moses and Aaron, “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). They accused God of harming them by taking them out of slavery in Egypt, “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?...Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:3-4). But David, who complained bitterly to God throughout the Psalms, never questioned God’s goodness or his provision: “I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living’” (Psalm 142:5).
My wife and I know our children need to see us turn to God as we deal with the challenges of this crisis. Nothing like the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine has occurred in my lifetime or that of my parents. My grandparents were children during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu and were young adults during World War II. I’ve never experienced this sort of uncertainty, confinement, and inconvenience. Without alarming them unnecessarily, we want them to hear us voice our concerns and discouragement to God, to turn our fears and anxieties into prayer, so they will know that we go to him when we’re in trouble. Complaining and whining to each other or ourselves (or online) in front of our children does little to no good for us or for them. However, when we cry out to Jesus, and address our complaints to God, we show our kids a productive way to process what’s bugging them. In this way, we invite them into greater mental and spiritual maturity. It’s a way to teach them to stay in the batter’s box when life is pitching wild. When we pray with them, we give thanks, we lift up the needs of others, and we confess our dislikes and disappointments in the current situation. And we invite them to do the same.
At the time of this writing, many areas have begun to open up again or are on the verge of doing so, yet, the pandemic is far from over. Much uncertainty remains and will continue. We may feel the relational, financial, social, and political fallout of the quarantine for quite some time to come. At each new stage, we can express our latest concern, worry, anxiety, or fear directly to God. As I pray about my latest anxiety or fear, I hand it off to Jesus to carry, like he said he would (Psalm 55:22), and his Spirit uplifts me with thankfulness. The challenges and difficulties our families have faced, and those of our communities, are real, but through it all, we can see God’s provision.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Turn your worries and complaints into prayer, and let the Holy Spirit comfort you with thanksgiving.
Rev. Travis Jamieson
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra