Playing basketball with my son and his friends resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
I heard a snap when jumping off my right leg for an easy layup, followed by significant pain.
Tests revealed that I had sustained two torn meniscus and a torn ACL, which required surgery on January 9, 2020.
Everything in my life required assistance for weeks. I went through moments of grateful rest and moments of exasperated frustration and intense pain.
The most difficult part was being homebound and unable to do many of my daily routines. After several weeks, I was beginning to allow these annoyances to define my experience.
At the peak of my frustration, I met with my spiritual director via Zoom and vented for a while. He listened and nodded his head sagely.
Then, after a brief pause, I shifted the other direction to being overly optimistic. Surely, I could use this time for something meaningful.
He listened and then suggested, “Maybe it is not about what you do to this time, but what this time is doing to you.”
All I wanted was to get back to normal. I wanted him to affirm that desire to do ministry. To be active. To do anything meaningful besides be at home.
Instead, we talked about the gift of limitations.
He reminded me of what his mentor Dallas Willard once said, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
He followed it up with, “Why are you in such a hurry to do something? What would it look like to be for a while?”
I was considering adding my spiritual director to the growing list of things that annoyed me.
He was right, of course. My normal life patterns had come to a screeching halt, yet I was still in a hurry to heal, to work, to get back.
Back to what? I did not have an answer really; I just wanted normal again.
After two months of physical therapy, I returned to work on February 24, 2020. I was back – but like Jacob, I had a physical and spiritual limp.
Fifteen days later, the COVID-19 pandemic meant I was back at home for the foreseeable future.
Coincidentally, my desire to get back to my routines following my injury has offered me insight into our desire to get back to “normal” following the required physical distancing.
While we’re all seeking to adjust and make the best of our collective experience, I fear we might be spending most of our energy trying to figure out what to do to this time and have not observed enough of what this time is doing to us.
We have spent countless hours finding creative ways of doing church, but I wonder if we have taken enough time for observing what this time is doing to us.
Despite being forced to cut back on our experiences, expenses and exposure, we collectively remain in a hurry.
We were in a hurry before the virus forced us out of common spaces. We have been in a hurry seeking to adapt to sudden change. Currently, we seem to be in a hurry to get back.
Back to what? Are we in such a hurry to get back that we are missing the chance to move forward into something new?
Dallas Willard’s words ring in my head.
We may have been forced to change and even slow down in many ways. But we have not really, truly, ruthlessly eliminated hurry from our lives.
As such, our souls are still in need of tending before we move forward into whatever comes next.
I think this is the place our churches, pastors and leaders can rest in for at least a few more weeks before we even begin to consider re-opening our facilities.
In addition to the crucial questions about health and safety, it might be even more important to ask the spiritual questions as well.
Can we ruthlessly eliminate enough hurry in our personal and corporate lives to ask ourselves and our congregations, “Why are you in such hurry? What is this time doing to you?”
What if between live streaming sessions we ask, “What does it mean to be the church rather than do church?”
How can we as pastors and leaders engage our people about why movements like “Re-Open Sunday” are so important to some Christians and deeply reflect on their responses with them?
I miss the local church building experience very much. I have only been in a church building three times since January.
I miss preaching. I miss singing the wrong words to songs. I miss hearing Scripture read aloud by readers who mispronounce words. I miss community.
I miss chasing my kids around getting them ready in the morning. I miss Sunday School donuts. I miss our family pew. I even miss those flavorless communion wafers.
But I must ask myself: Even though I have been home for all but a few working days since January 9, have I ruthlessly eliminated hurry from my life so that I can allow God to attend to my soul?
Even though I have social distanced, worn a mask and isolated with my family, have we nurtured a culture of recognizing Christ all around us?
How have I contributed to the hurried pace of churches I partner in ministry with?
What is this time doing to me?
How am I wrestling with God during this time? What sort of spiritual limp will I carry into what is next?
What is this time doing to you?
Once we return to our daily routines, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual limps we will collectively carry into what is next will require continued reflection.
Even as our local governments begin to permit gathering in churches again, until we have an answer to the spiritual questions, I am not sure we are ready to re-open.
Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared in Word & Way. It is used with permission.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister and Region Missionary to American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is a husband, father of two, author and baseball fan. His latest book, “Table Life: Five Spiritual Habits of Discipleship” (Judson Press) is scheduled to be released fall 2020.