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We Don’t Know

That phrase is the beginning of many public statements lately. Scientists, researchers, public health officers say “we don’t know” how soon we can develop a vaccine, “we don’t know” whether the COVID19 disease will surge with a second wave in the fall, “we don’t know” if relaxing the social distancing and opening up for normal commerce will bring a serious increase of cases in those locales. Besides this, our economists and business leaders are saying “we don’t know” if business will return as swiftly as we hope, or “we don’t know” if the government intervention with supplemental payments will keep certain companies from bankruptcy. I could repeat this in a dozen variations. My latest surprise in today’s news is that AMC Theatres says they will likely close down hundreds of movie theaters unless they can welcome big crowds this summer. That company, too, is facing bankruptcy. The bad news is we cannot know what will happen on many fronts. And we don’t like it.

I don’t like not knowing how big our energy bill will be for the month of June, because it depends on how hot the weather will be, and that is beyond my control. Or, someone could say, it depends on how frugally we set the air conditioning. But I can put up with such small unknowns. Millions of people, perhaps including you, my reader, don’t know what their income is going to be in the coming months. Drastic cuts, layoffs, and even government services are unstable. Today it is “yes” and tomorrow it might be “no.” My personal income is more stable, because I am retired, and, at least up ‘till now, those sources do not seem to be shaken. But we don't really know. . . .

At these times, I need to remind myself that there is so much more I do not know than I do know. Most of the time I pretend I know the future, or at least I make plans for a place to go camping, or fixing up our basement, maybe even a trip this fall. But my father had a habit, when talking about plans. He would usually start those sentences with the phrase, “If I live that long, I’m going to . . . ” and then he would fill in the blank, letting us know his plans. It was his way of acknowledging we always live on the edge. But we don’t like that, so we pretend that we know “pretty well” and that reduces our anxiety. One time I was talking with a friend with whom I keep in touch regularly, and the whole tenor of our conversation was about his anxiety. He had good reasons, including some troubling facts about health, his own work, and their housing situation being challenged, plus a few more items. And his anxiety was wearing him out, so he could not do his job as well as he would like.

The solution? He decided he needed a few days of personal retreat, and some time with a spiritual director. Anxiety is our natural response to “not knowing” important things that affect our lives. And the necessary response to anxiety and “not knowing” is to deepen our faith. I am always amazed at the example of Abraham. In Hebrews 11:8-10, we read, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Abraham is known as a giant of faith, a model for us. The biggest of challenges of life gather around faith and fear. Today I am praying that I can again and again affirm that God is good, and I will follow him, wherever that is to be. I can trust in God.

© 2020 Stanley Hagemeyer

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