Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Nothing" Means A Lot

Currently, my "office" space is comprised of the end of our couch, a plant stand with a basket of desk supplies on top of it (wedged in between the arm of the couch and the wall), and the area surrounding the plant stand and an end table that sits near the end of the couch. Needless to say, it's a lot less space than the office where I usually do campus ministry and the office I've recently acquired on campus, for the one course I've been teaching.

As I sat on the end of the couch recently--the space where I spend my morning devotion time, where I sit and scroll through social media, where I read and write and watch TV, where I hold Zoom and Facebook Live ministry events--in a particular moment, I took note of the kitsch spread out on top of the end table, and noticed something kind of peculiar. Whenever I am not sharing the space with the cat, so he can look out the window (knocking down as many things as possible as he sits there), 2 little plaques are displayed, and recently, I've been leaving a note card from my sister there, too. All three of these happen to have something in common: the quotations on them include the word "nothing." There's this from Jane Austen: "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." And this from Maya Angelou: "Nothing can dim the light that shines from within." And recently, this scripture verse: "for with God, nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37).

Now, first, the inclusion of "nothing" in all of those statements reminded me of all the times I've read students' essays this semester that talk about "everyone" and "no one" and all the other over-generalizations that young writers are prone to use. (Did you know that all "older" people are opposed to tattoos and unusual hair coloring? Also, everyone of a certain age is under pressure to post everything they do on social media; were you aware of this?!) It struck me as ironic that I've populated my own "inspirational spot" with a trove of (over?)generalized quotations. Are they true? Are they overstatements? Do they have any accuracy? (The writing instructor in me need to consider the ethos of these claims!)

Well, maybe these comments weren't intended to hold up against this kind of scrutiny, and that's OK. In this moment, I think what they all have in common is that, ironically enough, that little word "nothing" actually opens up a crack in the dull hopelessness that creeps in about 11:00 each morning (if not before). If it's true that there is "nothing like staying at home for real comfort," maybe it's OK that I can't be at either of my offices and see any of my students in person. If it's true that "nothing can dim the light that shines from within," then maybe what I'm doing here isn't a complete waste of space and time and energy. Maybe, even though I'm not physically saving lives on the front line of this pandemic, there's some kind of light that I'm shining to make the world a better place, anyway. You see, it's easy to feel like whatever I am doing--and some days, it feels like I'm "doing" precious little, other than keeping my children from killing each other--is just not that important. But a little "nothing" reminds me that whatever I manage to do just could be brightening up a darkness in someone else's life that I don't even realize.

Of course, that last quotation I mentioned, the Bible verse, means something deeper than Jane Austen's statement and a little bit more specific than Maya Angelou's. "For with God, nothing shall be impossible." This "nothing" should be rooting me right now. When I think of the suffering others are experiencing, when I see the unemployment numbers each week, when I read about the dead and the injustices being perpetrated in this country, even amidst the pandemic (#BREONNATAYLOR #SAYHERNAME), things seem pretty dang dark. I don't know or understand all of what God is up to, but it doesn't exactly seem like enough, to me. I pray for the same things day in and day out, and they don't seem like enough. Nothing seems to change. In some moments, nothing seems possible.

But "for with God, nothing shall be impossible." I should be expectant with hope that there is possibility for healing, wholeness, and justice--even when that's not what it looks like, right now. I should be reminded that the things that have seemed unlikely, unreasonable, and even out of the realm of possibility have been happening, from the beginning even until now. After all, this statement, as quoted from the gospel of Luke, was made to a young girl who was about to become pregnant out of wedlock with the baby who would be the Savior of the world. I guess if she could put her faith in it, so can I. Sometimes "nothing" means a lot!

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