Written by Ann Skalaski and Beth Walker
Beth Walker blogs at Lessons from the Sidelines. Her book by the same title was published in September 2020 and is a must-read for wives seeking to pursue their calling while supporting their husbands’ careers and ministries. Ann and Beth, both married to football coaches, met through the American Football Coaches Wives Association.
As we talk to friends and family, one universal feeling has emerged: weariness. We hear the elderly’s concerns about their risk in simply buying groceries; in their longing to see family and life-long friends now confined to nursing homes where doors are closed. We hear weariness in the voices of moms struggling to adjust to this unprecedented school year and students who are burned out from on-line classes and isolation from peers. We are all weary as we face a novel virus that compels caution whenever we venture out of our homes---donning masks and washing our hands more frequently than we ever thought possible. We are weary of waiting to get the vaccine, longing for the return of normal. We are weary of the fear that lies at the heart of all these things.
We also hear a great weariness in the voices of our black and brown friends. Weary of another illness that has plagued our land for far too long. Another death of a black man reminds them that simple tasks like driving (or running) through the wrong neighborhood can be fraught with risk. A steady stream of social interactions and comments has left them weary; longing for the day when people of color will be viewed by all as God’s image-bearers. They are weary of the masks they have been donning for years, simply to fit in. They are weary as they wait and wonder if there will ever be a cure for the racism that lies at the heart of all these things.
Weariness is not new
It’s easy to feel as if we are walking through this season of isolation alone. But we are not unique in our perceived persecution. We need only to open the Bible to read of those who model what it looks like to live obediently in weariness. In the Old Testament, Moses stands out for his faithfulness throughout 40 years of wandering. And in the New Testament, there is Paul. After years of traveling to plant churches, the tangible results of his efforts include the constant need to redirect church members away from false teachers, a body full of scars, and a long prison record. Read 2 Corinthians 11:5-30 for a full record of Paul’s traumatic encounters which include prison-time, flogging, being shipwrecked, and going without food, water and sleep. Paul knew something about weariness.
Persevering Through Weariness
Yet in all these painful and degrading situations, Paul didn’t stop moving forward. He didn’t stop writing letters to those who asked him questions and he never stopped praying or asking God for help.
In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul recognizes that his lineage and his labor gave him reason to boast yet, in verse 7, he celebrates God’s safeguard writing, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Finding Purpose in Hardship
Paul understood life wasn’t always going to align with his preferences. He knew without suffering and setbacks he was at risk of becoming arrogant. Is it possible Paul’s scars reminded him of those Jesus willingly took for him, for you, for me, and for our black and brown brothers and sisters? Did Paul’s thorn connect his heart to those misled by false teachers causing him to write letters reminding them of the one true God rather than writing them off completely?
Barna Research released a report in September 2020 that reveals “There is actually a significant increase in the percentage of practicing Christians who say race is “not at all” a problem in the U.S. (19%, up from 11% in 2019). Similarly to 2019, Black adults remain much more likely than their white peers to say the country has a race problem, and this sentiment is even stronger among self-identified Christians (81% vs. 76% of all Black U.S. adults).
After watching George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, more white Christians choose to believe race is “not at all” a problem. What causes such lack of empathy? Is it rooted in pride? Fear? Or perhaps exhaustion? We cannot ignore those we are close to, yet we are often isolated in our siloed echo chambers. As it becomes increasingly more difficult to discern the validity of information we receive, we lean into comfort. We lean into the words that make us feel good about ourselves ignoring sound doctrine and causing harms to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Ignoring their scars of weariness.
In 1 Corinthians 9:18 Paul reminds the church at Corinth that there is one goal: “Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” Paul further explains that because he is free from legalism and unconcerned with pleasing anyone other than God he doesn’t care about his reputation except to win others to Christ. This passion and zeal allow him to reflect Christ’s love to those who need it the most.
We aren’t all going to have Paul’s endurance and perseverance. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his choices, prayers, and empathy. Just like today, Paul lived in a racially divisive time. Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along and weren’t supposed to worship together. Yet Paul points out that while he was no longer concerned with the laws kosher Jews observed he was humble enough to abide by those laws when necessary because it was an easy way to love the Jews who observed the law.
We need each other
There is something else we should remember about both Moses and Paul. Exodus 17:12 tells us, “But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.’ Likewise, Paul was held up by the constant prayers of Timothy, Titus, Aquila, Priscilla, Tychicus, and other dear brothers and sisters who are part of his story and in Philippians 1:3, he thanks God every time he remembers them.
The pandemic’s impact has been felt for almost a year and we are so weary. Can this help us empathize with the chronic weariness of our black and brown neighbors? Can we, even in our own weariness, sit next to another, and like Aaron and Hur, hold their hands up for a little while? Can we, like Paul’s friends, hold them up in prayer? Could compassion for others--- sharing one another’s burdens--- be the path towards a cure for our collective weariness?