I drove to the middle school this past week to drop something off and, contrary to the usual experience at this time of year and at that time of day, easily found a parking space. I then proceeded to drive past the elementary school where, lo and behold, the situation was the same. High school: same thing. ALC: same thing. Churches on a Sunday morning: same thing. Certain stores: ditto.
This current state of things is just depressing. I don’t like seeing emptiness where there is supposed to be energy.
It reminds me of a theater stage when the performances are over. After all of the hustle and bustle and excitement and laughter and applause of a performance, a lifeless theater leaves me feeling forlorn. The end of a season of summer camp always felt that way, too. When the kids were all gone, taking the laughter and splashing and singing with them, the only sound left was the “ting, ting, ting” of the empty flag halyards hitting against the flagpole.
This year, heartachingly, that emptiness will be seen in hundreds of summer camps across our nation as camp after camp has to close its doors to the usual melee of children. Financially, this will hit hard. Spiritually, too, as Bible camps are often the highlight of a kid’s spiritual growth for their entire year.
When I told our youngest child, Lucy, that the Bible camp she always attends will be closed this summer, I thought she would be devastated, but instead she shrugged. Not because she didn’t care, but because she figured it was inevitable. Just another thing she can’t do this summer.
My life — and perhaps yours, too — feels desolate. Empty.
I had a moment of temporary exhilaration when my phone informed me this week that I have an “upcoming event." “I do?” I thought, getting excited despite knowing it was likely just something that was cancelled. I clicked on the app and there it was, the lauded “upcoming event”: Put out garbage.
Oh, good grief.
This week was supposed to be filled with field trips and ceremonies and parties. Instead, it’s filled with taking out the garbage.
So what do we do? How do we handle such unpleasantness? How do we plan when we don’t know what the future holds? How do we survive and thrive and pay our bills and retain our humanity in a world where emptiness reigns?
I think that the prophet Habakkuk can help us out. Habakkuk begins his short book in the Old Testament by complaining to God that things aren’t going too well in Ancient Israel. God tells him that the people are going to reap the consequences of their behavior. Habakkuk says that wasn’t exactly what he was looking for. God tells him not to worry. That even though he can’t see what’s coming, everything is going to be okay. Habakkuk, bless his ever-trusting heart, says, “I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2 NLT
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: God is just as faithful today as he was yesterday and as he will be tomorrow.
Habakkuk ends his book with one of my favorite Old Testament passages:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.” Habakkuk 3:17-19a NIV
It’s hard, if not impossible, to get through the emptiness on our own. But we are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is email@example.com.