Emerald ran into the kitchen with a bright orange and pink Barbie hammock hooked over both ears, covering her face and mouth like a medical mask. I could see her eyes crinkling at the corners, so I knew she was grinning underneath. It struck me as so very strange, a seven-year-old child’s game centering on a worldwide pandemic. But why shouldn’t that be what’s on her mind in these troubling times? When every conversation she hears is about the latest news, when every headline screams “Danger” and every photo is grownups in masks, wearily facing a frightening enemy that is so small it can’t be detected by the human eye? What an odd time to be a second grader.
And at night she has trouble sleeping. She comes into our bedroom in the wee hours of the morning, wandering the house in her unicorn nightgown, tearfully admitting that she is afraid that she will get sick. And no amount of reassuring will settle her down—she has a sense that this thing is out of our control, that even her problem-solving daddy has no way of standing between her and this dreaded illness.
She’s right. Truthfully, she lives every day in a world that is out of our control, but she can usually ignore such an inconvenient truth. Most days she feels like we have things in hand. Little does she know how hard we pray and how often we wonder what each new day will bring. But in the middle of an epidemic that has closed down her school, she can’t ignore the facts: her parents have no power to keep disaster at bay. So we teach her as best we can in a world of hypotheticals. Whatever happens, we tell her, we know that we can trust our good God. He always does what’s right, even when it’s hard for us to understand. She believes in Him. She trusts that He is good. But that doesn’t mean that she wants to be sick.
I think most Christians can identify with her feelings. We can trust God and be completely convinced that what He does is good and right, yet still hope to avoid tragedy, pain, suffering, hard times. The real testing of our faith comes when those hard times hit. We learn how to trust Him in new, deeper ways. We get to know Him better. We find ourselves in the often painful position of being forced to rely on Him, and He proves His goodness all the more.
Hard times are coming to our little town. We don’t know when the virus will hit our precious community, but the chances are good that it will. We don’t know how many people will lose their jobs, lose their businesses, lose loved ones, lose their independence. We simply don’t know what’s coming, but all signs point to difficulty. The rate of change in this very odd time in history has been, at times, hourly. It keeps us glued to our phones and televisions: what will happen next? Not a soul knows.
For now, things are calm in our city. The kids are venturing outside on days when they otherwise would have been anxiously preparing for state tests. Emerald spends her days playing with our dog or rocking the cat like it’s an enormous furry baby doll. She doesn’t appear to be worried while she’s coloring the sidewalk with chalk or riding her bike. But when the sun goes down she seems to feel a sense of foreboding, like she can hear thunder in the distance but can’t yet see the storm.
Many adults, too, can hear the thunder, wondering what the future will bring when there is no work or when their family members get sick. Despite the unexpected carefree days that the kids are getting, many of their families are already experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. There will be much to do in the coming days to help our neighbors. It may get overwhelming, the recovery from this difficult, unexpected moment in the history of our world. But I have lived in this place long enough to know one thing: we know how to help each other. We know how to anticipate needs and meet them almost before they are a reality. And we are willing to sacrifice for the good of others. We have a responsibility to each other, and we are good at taking care of our responsibilities.
Even more importantly, I know the God who can clearly see how all of this is going to turn out. He is fully in control of things, and He is the reason that, when Emerald shows up at my bedside at three in the morning with tears in her eyes, I can speak the truth to her with all confidence: everything is going to be okay. No matter what happens, God holds her safely in His hands. No fear, sickness, or even death can snatch her out, and I’m grateful every day that I have a sure hope in my Savior, for my children, for my family, for my town. He is working. I pray we can be a part of all He will do in the coming months. Hard times are coming, but Jesus is already here.