Seeking God’s Presence in the Time of Covid, Grace Tinsley ‘FF1

Grace Tinsley ‘FF1
Graduate of Wheaton College

This fall – where to begin?! So much has transpired, sometimes living in Franklin feels like a dream. It has been a sweet provision to have the opportunity to live, learn, and be present with one another and our broader community here in Franklin during this season. Our time together as a cohort has been such a gift to me! 

Our sense of cultural busyness has remained consistent. We’re bees, buzzing from flower to flower, collecting life-giving nectar. It’s both our work and our lifeline. Working, serving with student ministry, taking classes, and investing in our cohort are incredibly life-giving, and keep our schedules busy. While our routines are consistent (with the occasional spontaneous adventure), the world’s overall sense of normalcy remains in a state of constant flux as the virus continues to spread. 

Yet, in the midst of it all, I am learning. 

I am learning the liturgy of practicing slowing down in the moment. It’s the only way to interpret the unpredictability of our days as a signal to seek out God’s presence, and in that, choose joy. 

While we have had a sweet time together as a cohort, I often am reminded of those for whom this season has been more difficult. I am grieved. Grieved for the sick, the lonely, the unemployed, the fearful, and the vulnerable during this time. How can I rejoice genuinely in light of those realities? 

Before I get to that, let me start with a verse. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you also may rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed… Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16, ESV). 

Peter’s first letter was written to five churches in Asia Minor who were undergoing persecution. He encourages them to see trials as sharing in Christ’s sufferings, and to rejoice in that fellowship. In Acts, it says the apostles rejoiced because they counted themselves “worthy to suffer for the Name” (Acts 5:41). This is one of the most striking paradoxes of the Christian life.

Theologian Willie Jennings writes, “Joy is a defiant act of resistance against the forces of despair.” 

I remember after a particularly busy day back at home this year over Thanksgiving, my dad and I were sitting in the car. He gave me a good fatherly word as we processed the day, “I’ve learned over time on days like this, where it’s confusing and chaotic, God is very present.” 

It reminded me of a devotional entry I often return to in Streams in the Desert (Cowan). The gist of the message is: instead of seeing rain clouds as lack of the sun, they rather are evidence of its presence. The rain clouds remind us to hope for the sun; they remind us of how much we desire and need sunlight. Similarly, difficult seasons are not the lack of God’s presence, but rather provide evidence of our desire and need for Him in our hearts. This analogy has transformed the way I think about my days, myself, and God. 

This pandemic is our current reality. 

This also is our current reality: 

God is fully sovereign. 

God is fully present with us. 

He is walking, weeping, and rejoicing with us. 

So back to slowing down… I am learning that in shifting my mindset to see Jesus in the midst of our days, I often find Him right in the middle of it. He is in control. Fixing our eyes on Him takes the focus off of ourselves, and frees us to experience His peace and Presence. We can and should rejoice in the uncertainty. And we can do so without diminishing the difficulty of our days. We can rejoice in hope that Jesus is sovereign, understands us, and is with us in and through it. This is not a weak joy that lives in denial – it’s powerful and freeing. 

Not only can we find peace in fellowship with Christ individually, but we are especially encouraged to seek Christ within community. A few verses earlier in 1 Peter, the apostle writes: 

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to

serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:8-11, ESV). 

We are to rejoice in all circumstances, and also are to continue loving others well with gratitude and joy. This has held true for me this fall. While the twelve of us come from different backgrounds, our group is intentional, supportive, fun and down-to-earth. We all seek to love each other well. I am learning what it means to love my neighbors deeply, genuinely, and joyfully when I feel out of control of my circumstances. Now I see this season as a gracious opportunity to do just that. 

What the world may see as a roadblock, whether it is a small inconvenience or a pandemic, we know that redemption is the final word. The work has been finished, we have only to wait. And God has provided and continues to provide Himself for us during this time – He is enough to weather the unpredictability of life. And weather it with power and joy in community.