Lisa Witherspoon,
Associate Director of Children’s Ministry

Humans, it seems, have a propensity for marking time. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries ritualistically. We countdown days until specific holidays arrive and, often, become extremely attached to the traditions that accompany them. We mark off calendar days and turn the calendar pages with fervor. Here in North Carolina, we anticipate the changing of the seasons with eagerness (sometimes!).  

We do this in our church life as well. I would venture to say there are few places more steeped in tradition than FPC and we certainly mark those special occasion on the calendar, counting down until they arrive. We observe liturgical seasons like Advent and Lent that mark not only the passing of time, but the progression of the story that our faith rests upon.  

Lately, I have found myself marking time in another way. I have been referring to time as “before COVID,” “now,” and “after COVID” – often with a big fat question mark behind that “after” phrase. Have you done this, too? At church, it is a common utterance among staff. We say, “Well, before COVID we did fill-in-the-blank this way,” usually followed by some version of, “but what should we do about that NOW?” and “how will it look AFTER?” 

We do this in our personal lives in other ways, referring to a time before and after the loss of a loved one, before and after marriage or kids, perhaps even before and after a job change or move.  

There are times in history when this has happened, too, right? I’m sure people used to refer to times “before and after the war” and “before and after the Great Depression.” I remember a time “before 9-1-1” and a definitive “after” that.  

The problem with the before & after regarding COVID is that we haven’t reached the after yet, so it doesn’t feel complete. It is like a before and after weight loss or makeover picture – without the “after” it just doesn’t make sense. There is unquestionably a “before” that is fresh in our memories, but, if we haven’t reached the “after” yet, where are we and how are we supposed to count THIS time?  

Honestly, I have no idea. Nobody does.  

I do know this, though. We are people of faith and our faith tells us that God is with us in our darkest, most uncertain times; our faith helps us to believe that we WILL get to an “after COVID” time, even if we can’t yet see it marked on our calendars. 

God led the Israelites out of the Wilderness to the Promised Land, but it was not a quick journey, and it certainly was not a simple one, either. The list of people in the bible who found themselves waiting in some kind of liminal space is a long one that includes Abraham & Sarah, Hannah, Job, Jesus, and Paul. 

While the timeline is uncertain, there is one thing for sure. “After” will be different. “Now” is already different and changing constantly. Sometimes the changes are unpleasant ones – lower attendance, loss of connection. However, sometimes the changes are good as well, such as opportunities to re-evaluate and re-create; and more flexible, open mind-sets.  

My mother has always loved this passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. She even has a print of it hanging in the house where I grew up, so it has always been a favorite of mine, too. 

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;  

It is usually presumed that Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon (although some scholars dispute this) who also wrote the book of Proverbs that comes just before this one. In these verses, Solomon points out that life is inevitably full of ups and downs, poetically offsetting each negative with a positive. One commentary said it this way: “To expect unchanging happiness in a changing world, must end in disappointment.” 

The problem is, we often stop there at verse 7. However, if we keep reading there is more wisdom to glean.  

What gain have the workers from their toil? 1I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.  

The main thing that grabs me in this passage is verse 13: “. . . it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”  Um, “take pleasure in our toil??” Excuse me, WHAT?!?!? That’s tough, right?  

I think the point is, at least for me, that we cannot stop at our disappointment when things get rough. We have to dig a little deeper, work a little harder to find the pleasure in our toil. For me, that pleasure comes in hugs from kids on Sunday morning and in smiles I can see in their eyes even though a mask hides their mouth. It comes from creativity and trying new things. It comes in laughter with colleagues and family.  

There was a time before. 

There will be a time after.  

But, where are you finding pleasure in the toil right now