College drop-offs and back-to-school photos are flooding social media streams. End-of-Summer-Sale ads are popping up. Rally Day is drawing close. Everywhere we see reminders that we are drawing close to a new season in the world and in the church year, as summer relaxation gives way to fall activity. This shift holds expectations for excitement and new energy, expectations that we want to embrace. And, because we so deeply want a fresh start, the roadblocks sent up by a resurgent pandemic, filling ICU beds and increasingly impacting children, have the potential to elicit in us more frustration than fear.
We are so tired of this endless pandemic. We are so ready for what comes next. We want the new school year/program year to coincide with a new start for church and for life. Of course, we do. Of course, we can resent anything that gets in the way of the fresh start we want (even if those things are reasonable safety precautions).
I know a little about frustrated expectations. I am writing this article from my week at Family Camp – a week intended to be about a combination of quality time with my family, rest, and spiritual study. But I am writing this article with my laptop balanced on my stomach while I elevate and ice the knee that I injured the second morning here. (By the time you read this I hope to have answers about what is wrong, but right now I only know that it is swollen, painful, and cannot hold my weight). Needless to say, this is not how I had planned for my week to go. And when I think about the sudden question marks surrounding activities for the rest of this month and the start of the school year, I get both anxious and frustrated.
But my frustration won’t do me any good. I cannot just start walking on a knee that buckles when I try to put weight on in. Just like we cannot just start living like our nation is not still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. If we do, we will fall flat on our face and make the pain even worse.
That’s the hard part of the lesson that this week is forcing on my attention, but there is a much more life-giving lesson as well. The still, small voice of God’s Spirit is telling me there is something better than a fresh start: there is renewal. Renewal is about reconnecting to what gives me life, regardless of my circumstances. A fresh start is situational – it requires things around me to change. But renewal starts in my spirit, with remembering the well-spring of joy, and love, and meaning that God is always feeding if I will only dip my bucket down to draw from it. Renewal is the change inside of me that changes how I experience the circumstances that have NOT changed. It’s the shift of focus that allows me to enter into worship even when my knee is throbbing. It’s the gratitude for a meditation that focuses me on something as simple as my own heartbeat and touches me with the miracle of my life. It’s what I came here for and, as it turns out, a busted knee doesn’t stop this renewal unless I let it.
Renewal might not be what we were all looking for this Fall, but I promise you, it’s better than a fresh start. Because renewal can’t be stopped by frustrating circumstances. It can only change the way we experience those circumstances, and that change is all for the better.