For Such a Time…as This?

Over the last few months, newspapers have been full of stories of lives interrupted, trajectories overturned, hopes dashed in the face of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. But I can’t help wondering if—even if in a small way–were we made for such a time as this? I ask you to consider the possibility that this time is not a mere interruption, but a main event, one where some of our most significant contributions and sacrifices will be rendered? 

Are there ways, big and small, for which we were created to respond to this incredibly difficult time?

I’ve blogged before about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor in Germany who became an anti-Nazi insurgent and founder of the Confessing Church—acts that would lead to his hanging as the Nazi regime collapsed. A decade later, another pastor—this one an American—was guiding his congregation from the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church when Rosa Parks declined to give up her seat on the bus. A few days later, 40,000 Black citizens would boycott the city’s bus system. That day, Dr. King—at 26—was elected president of the hastily-formed Montgomery Improvement Association, which voted to extend the boycott until the city met its demands.

Certainly, neither Bonhoeffer or King could have predicted that these disruptions would prove to be the moments that they were, in fact, made for.

As a child, my mother read stories from the Bible to my brother and me each night before bed. Joseph’s story was among my favorites: a cherished son who was honored by his father with a special robe of many colors, whose siblings—out of jealousy—sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he became a servant of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. After fending off a seduction attempt by Potiphar’s wife, her false accusation landed him in prison.

Rather than mourn over hopes dashed, Joseph waited for his moment—and it came. When Pharaoh had a troubling dream, Joseph—still a prisoner—was able to interpret it. Soon, he was made Governor of Egypt, where he began to ration produce to protect against possible famine. Famine came, yet due to Joseph’s prudence, thousands of lives were saved, including those of his own bothers and elderly father. Like Bonhoeffer and King, this was probably not the trajectory Joseph thought he was on as he reveled over his coat of many colors. 

So, what do the challenges we face today mean for us? What might we be called to do? No matter what the outcome of this week’s Presidential election, our country will remain in dire straits. Are there ways, big and small, for which we were created to respond to this incredibly difficult time? And, if we focus our energies on regretting what has been lost, might we miss our moment?

In suggesting we consider these questions, I don’t mean to underplay the very real struggles faced by those for whom the present moment has meant lost lives, lost livelihoods, lost homes and more. Yet over a career of listening to the life stories of those living on the economic edges of our society, I have seen stronger manifestations of faith and a greater concern for others among those on the margin than among my more affluent friends.

This was never more clear than during the year I attended a small African Methodist Episcopal chapel in the Eastside neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina. One elderly congregant was barely surviving on her meager retirement income, renting the second floor of a wooden structure (painted a fading pink), so dilapidated it looked ready to collapse with the next strong wind. Daily, she devoted herself to scripture and prayer. When inspiration struck, she would record these “testimonies” on slips of paper, copying them by hand so as to distribute them at bus stops around town. Soon, she was recognized by many of the younger members of the congregation for her wise counsel. Near the end of her life, though poor and without social standing, in her time she became a towering figure in that congregation. Who knows how many were encouraged and inspired by her words?

What an example.

I ask you to now consider if this might be your moment, even in a small way. I have been asking myself the same question. I have felt a sense of quickening over the past few months, though I have no clear sense of what might lie ahead. Taking Joseph’s example, I will wait for my opportunity…and see where it leads.