May 6, 2020 • Life for Leaders
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Colossians 3:12 (NRSV)
When I engage with various media these days, it seems like I keep hearing the phrase “in these uncertain times.” Everybody is saying it . . . all the time. Wondering if this phrase is really so overused, I Googled “in these uncertain times” and found a recent article from The Wall Street Journal with this title: “‘In These Uncertain Times,’ Coronavirus Ads Strike Some Repetitive Notes.” Writer Nat Ives observes, “The most common elements of coronavirus advertising are familiar by now: Piano music, images of empty streets, voice-overs that invoke ‘these uncertain times,’ and company promises to be there for consumers.” So the phrase is overused even in ads as well as many other media. It seems my mind is not playing tricks on me. Everybody is referring to “these uncertain times.”
I wouldn’t be addressing this topic in Life for Leaders except that there’s something about this phrase that has been bothering me, besides its overuse. Of course I recognize that we are living in what could rightly be called uncertain times, probably the most uncertain of our lives. So, what do I find distressing about the phrase “in these uncertain times”?
One thing that bothers me is what feels almost like an attempt to minimize the pain and disruption that many people are experiencing right now. Yes, they are feeling uncertainty. No doubt about this. But many are feeling far worse as well. Some are dealing with the certainty of being painfully sick. Others are worried sick about their loved ones. Millions are grieving the certainty of recent job loss, while others are living in fear of layoffs that are certainly coming. Hordes of people are feeling intense loneliness, confusing disruption, or toxic cabin fever. So these are not just “uncertain times.” They are also painful times, distressing times, sad times, frightening times, and so much more. “Uncertain times” is an inadequate description.
Moreover, to refer to our current times as merely “uncertain” feels to me like something coined by people living with considerable privilege, people who haven’t lost their jobs, who aren’t worried about their health, whose loved ones are well, and who are relatively comfortable during this pandemic. The worst thing in their lives is uncertainty. Now let me say that I am one of these people, at least so far. Most of the negative feelings I have these days are in fact due to uncertainty and related anxiety. But I need to remember that millions of others are struggling with much worse, and I want to be compassionate.
In fact, I believe that the uncertainty most of us are feeling right now could actually help us be more compassionate, not less. After all, millions upon millions of people in our world live with significant uncertainty, not just in these times, but in all times. I’m thinking of those who are poor or powerless, people whose lives are regularly disrupted or devastated by things beyond their control. They live with uncertainty that—honestly—is rare in my life. But now, in some way, I am more able to relate to what they feel consistently.
Compassion for others is not extra credit for Christians. Take Colossians 3:12, for example: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” As people who are special to God because of his grace in Christ, the first thing we’re to put on is “compassion.” The original language is even more powerful. It says that we’re to clothe ourselves with “a heart of compassion” (splanchna oiktirmou). This isn’t simply a matter of appearing to care for others. Rather, it’s having your heart moved by the sufferings of others and the acting on that empathy.
So, yes, we do live “in these uncertain times.” But may our hearts be open to what others are experiencing, especially those for whom these times are far worse than merely uncertain. May our prayers and our actions reflect our compassion. May our own uncertainty help us understand more deeply what many people feel all the time. Perhaps through COVID-19 God is opening our hearts to others in brand new ways.
Something to Think About:
As you reflect on the phrase “in these uncertain times,” what occurs to you? Am I just being too picky or sensitive?
If you’re feeling anxiously uncertain right now, and this is an unusual feeling for you, can you imagine what it’s like for those who live with this sort of feeling all the time? What happens when you try to step into their shoes for a while?
What helps you to be compassionate?
Something to Do:
Think of something you could do as an expression of compassion for others and then do it.
Gracious God, we do live in what feels like “uncertain times.” The things we take for granted seem to have been snatched away by a scary and mysterious virus. We come before you with our own anxiety about the uncertainty in our lives.
At the same time, we remember, Lord, that for others these times are worse than uncertain. We pray for those who are sick with COVID-19, that they would be healed. We pray for those who are watching helplessly as their loved ones are dying and are not able to be with them. We pray for those who are grieving the loss of family, friends, jobs, and much more.
As we pray, may our hearts be opened. May our compassion be stirred up. And may we discover how we can serve those who are hurting these days. May your church, Lord, be united in our care for our neighbors near and far. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Set Your Mind On Things Above: Heavenly Living for Earthly Good (Colossians 3:1–16)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.