As a result of one too many nights of 3 a.m. channel-surfing, I happened upon a network that showed reruns of 1950’s vintage game shows. Despite its cheesy sets, To Tell The Truth captured my modern imagination. Three people would in turn use the same name to introduce themselves to the audience, then the host would read a job description for a position that one of the three actually held. A panel of celebrities would interrogate the three same-named contestants, trying to suss out which two were imposters. The host would conclude the questioning by asking the real person to stand up and tell the world the truth about who they were.
I thought about this show when I was talking to female ministry leader who’d recently received a cancer diagnosis. When I asked Linda (not her real name) how she was doing, she answered quickly, “I’m great! God is in control!”
As the conversation continued, I heard a number of “shoulds” simmering just beneath her victorious facade that hinted that some of her courage might have been fueled by religious performance: “I have to be strong”, “I want to have a good testimony”, and “My faith is on display”. Her seemingly-upbeat, positive approach was celebrated by many of the women to whom she ministered. But a few others expressed shame and sadness that they weren’t as strong and brave as Linda appeared to be. Linda’s heroic public persona made it a little more challenging for some other people around her to be honest about their own struggles.
So many of us reading these words have come from churches where it hasn’t always been easy to tell the truth. The Lindas among us have often been the exemplars of what a strong faith should look like. We haven’t always been quick to recognize that fear can somtimes masquerade as performance. But as we are all navigating a world in which Coronavirus is raging and spreading exponentially, few of us can muster a heroic facade. This kind of faux front has never been true to the One who is Truth incarnate, and donning it has fit the Church as poorly as a cheap Halloween costume.
I’ll say it: My name is Michelle and I’m afraid.
As this story has unfolded over the last weeks, I’ve spent too much time scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through a torrent of scary news reports, which bring no solace but instead serve as a fear accelerator. Each one seems to invite me to play my favorite fear-based game, “Imagine The Worst-Case Scenario”. For some strange reason, my own personal game show, which I often play solo at 3 a.m., has never been picked up by a network.
You might be afraid, too. You might be full of questions about when this will be over, how your life will change, what will happen to you and your loved ones, and why God has permitted this. What fills the space between these questions and the silence of no ready answers can be fear and confusion for most of us.
Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” King David had plenty of reasons to be afraid during the time he first sung this Psalm in the darkness and confusion of a life on the run. I am heartened by the fact that he didn’t use the bravado of saying “If I am afraid…” His “when” tells me he was regularly blunt with God about his fear, and fought his way back to trust as he poured out his anxiety and confusion before him.
We hear that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). I once used these words as a metric that assessed my own imperfect and fearful love. No more. Instead I am consoled by these words. What is translated here as “perfect” is the same Greek word (teleios) that means finished, complete, or fully grown. It describes the process of a Jesus follower’s journey with him, not the destination.
Naming our fears before God, sharing them with a trusted friend or family member who will listen without trying to fix it (because there is no quick fix for COVID-19 and its still-unfolding effects on our world, and because most attempts to “fix” fear tend to drive it underground, not away), and if the anxiety is consistently paralyzing, reaching out for professional help can all be a part of what will make us all truth-tellers right now.
Yes, I am afraid, and I am learning to trust God in new ways. And in this, I am standing up to tell the truth together with you, my friends.
Sage words for hard times
My friend Marlena Graves, author of a forthcoming book about humility and dependence called The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself By Forgetting Yourself (you’ll want to add her book to your list!), wrote some gracious words of endorsement for my book: “Becoming Sage is for all of us who are famished, who long for sense amid so much ‘Christian’ nonsense…I want to stick this book in the hands of every pastor, church leader, and seminary professor.” She sent me this sweet picture with two of her sage daughters holding the book.
Publishers Weekly gave Becoming Sage: Cultivating Maturity, Purpose, and Spirituality a wonderful review. Click here to read it.
I never imagined when I was writing this book about loss, challenge, upheaval, and spiritual maturity that it would be releasing in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
Becoming Sage uses the lens of midlife transition to describe the process of change and growth in our lives. We are all experiencing crisis right now, and I’m praying that the words in this book might be of help in a disorienting time.
It is scheduled to release April 7th. It’s available from Amazon in both print and Kindle formats, though I am hearing that some may experience a week or two of delay of delivery of the print book due to the way Amazon is repriotizing some shipments right now.
There are other sources if you’d like to get your copy hot off the press including:
Hearts & Minds Books
Barnes & Noble
I’d love to facilitate a series of book discussion from Becoming Sage starting the last week in April. More and more of us are using technology to meet up during this era of social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates. It’s not the same as being together in person, but it does allow people to be present with one another in new ways. Though I’ve long used Zoom for meetings and when I’ve been a guest on some podcasts, I’m currently co-leading a Bible study at our church using this online tool, and it’s been a life-giver as it helps our group stay connected.
If you’re interested in a 4-6 week book discussion, click here to email me. I’ll reach out to those who email me to see if we can find a mutually-agreeable time that will work for all.
Praying you and yours stay well.
With great gratitude to God for you,
To contact me about speaking at your church or ministry event, click here. It would be my privilege to serve your group. I can Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or use two empty toilet paper rolls strung together if you like.
Have you visited The Perennial Gen, a website for midlife women and men I co-founded with Amanda Cleary Eastep? The site has lots of encouraging posts on a wide variety of relevant topics by many thoughtful writers. Stop by and say hey!
Some have asked about the Wonder Years Gathering, an event for midlife women that took place in Mt. Hermon, CA in February. It was remarkable in every way. We are prayerfully looking ahead to see how and when we might continue this ministry.
Finally, a big shout-out to Andrea Miyares of Iconic Design. Once upon a time (about 20 years ago), Andrea was one of my writing students. She is now a designer who helped refresh my michellevanloon.com website. I am grateful for her patience and resourcefulness.