I’ve always enjoyed the beginning of a new school year. I love the rush of a fresh start with new school supplies, whether it was for me or my kids. But this year has been different in many ways: we’ve been home from face-to-face school since March; we start school online for the first several weeks; we may or may not be face-to-face for very long once school starts. All of that meant that I’d not been looking forward to the start of this school year. I could barely bring myself to buy supplies until the day before school began. When I talked about this strange school year with a couple of my friends, we wondered about the ultimate fall out, mentally and emotionally, from dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, in part, because we lacked our normal anticipation and excitement. In fact, I felt worn down and a little numb.
So, I sought solace by conducting a Google search of Bible verses that dealt with this feeling I couldn’t quite name. I found Psalm 22, a psalm of David, in which he asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” a refrain that Jesus would echo from the cross. In describing his plight, David said, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” Poured out – that felt familiar.
During this crisis, all of us have been pouring ourselves out, day after day, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy or dealing with the everchanging newness of the situation. And yet, with all of the isolation and distancing, we are not being filled up with the benefits of friendship, social interactions, or community with any regularity, if at all. Many of us feel gutted and hollow.
In the Old Testament, a woman tells the prophet Elisha that her husband, who’d been one of Elisha’s men, had died and now his creditors would make her sons slaves to fulfill the debt. Elisha offered to help and asked what the woman had available in her house. She replied, “Your servant has nothing there at all, except a small jar of olive oil.” Elisha told her to “go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” He then directed her to pour oil into all the jars. The woman and her sons poured oil into numerous jars until there were no more jars left, which allowed them to pay off their debts and gave them money to live on. 2 Kings 4:1-7.
I feel as though many of us are like the empty jars, all of our energy and spirit poured out waiting to be refilled. When we lived in Missouri, we occasionally held Services for Wholeness and Healing at our church, First Presbyterian of St. Louis. Our pastor Reverend Kelly Allen started the tradition and asked if I would help her. She would stand at one end of the sanctuary and I would be at the other end creating two stations for people to approach, at which time they would offer a specific prayer request. We would pray with them and then anoint their heads with a small amount of oil. At first, I hesitated because I felt unqualified to help, but she convinced me it was okay. I’m so glad I participated because it was powerful and moving to pray with people regarding their personal situations, to know they were entrusting me with their needs, to stand in the gap between them and God and speak on their behalf. Those connections were life affirming for me. Placing the symbol of the cross in oil on their foreheads was a way to reassure them they were not alone in their pain or sorrow or seeking.
We may feel empty at times, especially as of late. But God has the ability to fill us with his spirit until we are overflowing again. However, God may depend on us to help. Even when we cannot be together physically, we need to make efforts to fill one another up with love. We can reach out to let others know they are on our minds. Sometimes, a simple text is all it takes to reassure another that they are not forgotten, that they matter, that they are understood. None of us are perfect at lifting and encouraging others, but if we all take responsibility to perform small gestures with regularity, what a difference we might make for others. In turn, we might also find our vessels being filled. Then maybe when we can gather again physically in our chosen groups, we will not return depleted but rather with a new-found spirit of connection and love.
Let us pour out love and empathy to fill others’ hearts knowing God will empower us to help them and will also heal us from the emptiness we may experience in these challenging times.