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Finding hope in a hard season

Though the fig tree should not blossom

And there be no fruit on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive should fail

And the fields produce no food,

Though the flock should be cut off from the fold

And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the Lord,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. — Habakkuk 3:17-18

There’s an expression I like – I believe it to be a southernism. It’s both colorful and direct, as southern idioms tend to be.

It is, “You’re on my last nerve.” Translation: I only have one nerve left, and you are messing with it. The implication is “back off.”

Right now, with our local hospitals full, with COVID numbers going up every day, with children and younger people becoming infected at higher and higher rates, I want to say to the coronavirus, you are on my last nerve. I mean, we all endured a year and more of isolation, disconnection, physical and emotional suffering as we watched our fellow Americans sicken and die.

Finally, finally, in answer to prayer and as the result of much hard work, a vaccine was delivered to us.

Who could have foreseen that some would unaccountably refuse this life-saving gift?

Who could have predicted that, just when plans were being made for a “normal” fall, full of normal activities, this virus would shapeshift and return in an even more infectious form, pulling the rug out from under us?

This virus is on everyone’s last nerve.

It’s a heavy, heavy time tight now. As if a resurgent pandemic weren’t enough, we are also grieved by wildfires out west, flooding and storms in the east, the devastating toll of an earthquake in Haiti and the toll of violence and fanaticism as Afghanistan self-destructs.

Does it feel a little bit like everything is falling apart?

It is enough to make us all want to retreat to a cave somewhere, a quiet, remote place without TV or internet.

But take heart. If you read the biblical story, you’re bound to be impressed by how often the people find themselves in some seemingly hopeless situation, only to have God bring new life and a new future.

Take, for instance, the prophet Habakkuk, who wrote in about 600 B.C. when the fearsome Babylonians were on the verge of devastating his nation, Judah. Habakkuk could foresee the devastation that his people would suffer — no figs on the trees, no fruit on the vines, no livestock in the field, no food to eat. Yet, he didn’t despair.

Amid his own suffering and that of Judah, he found reason to hope, and to trust in God. The prophet didn’t sugarcoat what would take place in his land, but through it all, he could still proclaim his trust in God, and he could still exult in God’s goodness.

How could Habakkuk maintain his hope, his faith, as he stared down destruction?

I think it’s because God has proven to be faithful, and God’s faithfulness does not change with circumstances. And so I am hopeful, and I pray that you can hold onto a living hope, too. Let us all rejoice in hope that better times are coming and put our hands and our hearts to help, which is hope in action.

REV. SUSIE THOMAS is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Her email address is sthomas@farmvilleumc.org.