A little over a year ago, we all went into lockdown. Soon after, I started writing these little essays about “holding on to the good.”
My first post was entitled “What Use Is There In Living?”
I haven’t posted something new in over a month. I confess – I’ve been depressed. There has been a lot of loss around me. Many good people have departed us.
We lost a friend about two weeks ago who was a steady and good part of our lives during all my years in New Jersey. I met Tom before my oldest son Noah was even born. Devoted to his daughter and his friends and his church, Tom was dutiful, funny, interesting, and kind. I’m particularly thankful that in recent years, he looked after and instructed my three oldest sons as they served in the altar.
I have many friends who have begun to lose their dear ones.
This sadness and loss brought me back to my original question – what is the use, when our lives pass so briefly, when our noblest efforts seem vain?
My wonderful wife Jessica splendidly reminded me that service offered in love is never lost, that every good deed done mystically impacts other human beings in ways we won’t understand, on down through the ages from generation to generation.
“They/we just don’t get the credit.”
The veneration of icons in Orthodox Christianity was a stumbling block to me in early days. Later, I learned that veneration - praise of any other - is ultimately appreciation shown to the Author of all that is good. In our goodness, we are icons of Christ.
Sometimes we want the credit, I guess, and that is a stumbling block, too.
I’ve always been challenged by the passage on heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11-
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
I used to think that an ideal not expected of the many.
Yet here we are, dying a little more every day, and so much remains undone.
When we are tired and suffering it is hard, and few probably understood the constant feeling of defeat more than Saint Paul, who was beaten, arrested, harried to and fro his whole life. Yet, he wrote to the Galatians – “do not become weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.”
To those without faith, the life of Saint Paul is a cautionary tale. Eventually he was beheaded during the persecutions of Nero, one of the most anti-Christian of Roman emperors. Certainly contemporary observers might have considered his efforts a true failure.
Consider Dr. King, who was killed for his dream, which remains so, tragically, seemingly just beyond our reach.
It’s that “in due season” that can give us trouble. We want to see with our own eyes. We don’t want to wait. We want change right now.
A year in and it feels like this pandemic is rounding the corner. However, trauma has been unleashed on so many levels that the end will not likely come for many years. Many if not most have been wounded in ways that will endure for the rest of our lives.
As a middle school history teacher and parent of students in preschool, elementary school and high school, I see all sorts of aspects of the trauma, emotional and academic and social. Thank God I have been working and getting paid. Others know financial trauma. Some have lost those nearest to their hearts. Lord, have mercy.
Two of the books I read this year addressed the Holocaust. My timing might have been poor.
In both (In Paradise, a fiction by Peter Matthiessen and Night, a memoir by Elie Wiesel), there is the real quandary, not only of death and loss, but of dark horrors. In both, faith died. Yet only in its dying could it become real, and eternal.
Maybe reading those books was wise, for it reminded me of all the good I still have, and also to be wary of petty and foolish divisions that become the fuel for dehumanization and hate. It also taught me that we must persist in hope, even when it has been seemingly annihilated.
I know you’re tired. So am I. I see a lot of hurt and harming on social media these days.
But we must not become weary in doing good.
We won’t get the credit, but it might change the world.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle