“I Know Nothing!”
When I was young there was a popular sitcom called “Hogan’s Heroes” that my family watched weekly. The premise was that American soldiers in German prison camps during WWII were able to outwit their captors due in large part to the arrogance and bumbling of the German soldiers. (Addressing the cultural stereotypes of those days is a subject we can tackle later.) Whenever it became apparent that something significant had happened on the front lines and that somehow German secrets had been leaked to the Americans, possibly through this prison camp, there was one German soldier who frequently said, “I know nothing!” I can still hear his voice with his heavy German accent repeating this line.
It’s a sentiment I think of often as we ponder how to safely reengage with each other after two months of quarantine. Even though health officials can report on scientific models based on viruses in the past, and politicians can cite one report or another, the reality is we know nothing. We cannot predict the future. We know NOTHING. And the “not knowing” is one of the most difficult aspects of grief. When ignored or denied, “not knowing” can actually paralyze us or send us down an arrogant and bumbling path.
Facing the reality of “not knowing” may appear to be a vulnerable position. In spite of the appearances though, it is a sign of courage and maturity. Facing “not knowing” is like driving into the sunset at dusk. When it is totally dark, we know we are not fully seeing the buildings that are not touched by the light of streetlamps. We know for certain there are aspects of the landscape around us we cannot see.
At dusk, there are shadows and silhouettes that can be misleading. A few years ago, I was driving toward south-central Kansas at dusk. I saw one of those reflective red and orange triangles with two lights on either side in front of me. I could see it was a vehicle of some sort and that it was moving very slowly. I slowed. Yet the vehicle was still going slower than me. At first, I thought of a semi but, the side lights confused me. It also appeared to be too low. Since I was in farm country, I assumed it must be a farm implement but it was not wide enough for a combine or plow. As I slowly came up behind the vehicle, I realized it was a horse and buggy. Not only was I in farm country, I was in Amish territory. The driver politely pulled the buggy onto the shoulder of the highway and I was able to pass without having to move into the oncoming traffic side of the road. My headlights allowed me to see the horse for only a moment and then I was past.
That’s where we are right now. On a highway at dusk with shadows in front of us. So how do we go forward?
One step at a time.
For those who are practiced at trusting God in the unknown spaces of their lives, scripture and daily routines of meditation and prayer are familiar territory when walking through unfamiliar times. For those who are new to faith, notice I used the word “practiced”? Trusting in God may sound like a fairy tale. And yet it is more like what folks in recovery refer to as “fake it until you make it.” It’s what sports coaches would suggest athletes do until it becomes a body memory.
Here is where I lean on the scripture from Romans 5:3-5. “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” NRSV
As COVID-19 began to spread, I had a conversation with my mother. She let me know that my Grandmother’s first husband died of complications related to the flu of 1918-1919. He did not die in those years. He died a few years later due to those complications. (I do hope and pray that is not something we face in the next few years.) After our conversation, I realized I would not be here today if it were not for the loss my grandmother endured. She lost her first husband, leaving her with three little girls to raise on her own. However, through family and friends, she met my grandfather, who had lost his first wife, and had a little boy and a little girl of his own. They married. Together, they had twins. One of those twins is my mother.
I can only imagine how painful it must have been for my grandmother following her loss. I can only imagine the shadows she faced in trying to be a single mother to three little girls in the late 1920s. Even once she remarried and had to parent her own children plus stepchildren, she and my grandfather were brave enough to have the twins. And then the depression hit followed by another world war. They raised seven children together in extremely difficult times. In my imagination I picture them both simply putting one foot in front of the other at times.
It is human nature to long for someone to tell us exactly when it will be safe to send our children back to sports practices. We long for someone to give us an exact date when colleges will open and we can attend our favorite concerts or sports without worry over who we sit next to. It’s in our DNA to long for a date when this will all be over and we can go back to “normal.”
The good news is, it is also in our DNA to endure through difficult times. We have inherited flexibility and adaptability from past generations. Even though we may not have had to use it for many years, we have the ability to put one foot in front of the other in spite of the shadows around us.
In the mornings, I use the Upper Room as my devotional. The other day, the scripture that was referenced was Colossians 1:1-14. What caught my attention on that day were verses 9-12. “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (The Message)
I have the feeling we are all going to need faith and endurance to get through this. The answers are not going to come until years after this situation is over. Then, with hindsight, officials and scientists will be able to look backward for answers. They will learn from mistakes and hopefully new policies will be created to help future generations. Policies that will make a difference for our grandchildren.
And that “bright and beautiful” stuff promised in the scripture? For me, it is knowing my grandparents put one foot in front of the other every day for years so that my mother and then my siblings and I could be here.
I cannot tell you what “bright and beautiful” things God has planned for you. No one can. What I can do is pray that your heart and mind are open so that you might recognize these “bright and beautiful” things when they come to pass.
Praying for your endurance,