Years ago I served as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was a great experience for both me and my family. Part of the joy of being there, was the opportunity to spend a lot of time enjoying the beauty of the Smokies and getting to know the local community. One of my favorite activities in those days was coaching Little League Baseball. Most of the games were played at a picturesque city park located within a stone’s throw of downtown Gatlinburg. The park complex had a baseball field, a picnic pavilion, tennis courts, a playground, and even a babbling creek. Our family has returned to that spot many times through the years to both gather the memories and to make new ones.
Just past the center field fence and down a small incline sits a large, green trash dumpster. It almost never affects the play on the baseball field. Almost never. But as you might imagine, the dumpster is a favorite spot for the local black bears. Usually they sneak their way into the park after dark, but then again, sometimes they appear in the middle of the 5thinning. It happened on several occasions. A large bear would lumber across left field, climb the fence and meander his/her way down to the dumpster. When a bear appeared, we would call a “bear delay.” All the players were pulled off the field until the bear moved on. The first couple of times it happened, it was a bit unnerving. But soon, the “bear delays” just became a part of life in Gatlinburg at the old ballpark. The game would pause, the bear would disappear, and then the game would continue.
It has been my experience that sometimes big, scary things meander into our lives and we are left wondering if we will survive. The interruptions may come in the form a health concern, a job loss, a grief experience, maybe even a world-wide pandemic. When the interruptions come, we may want to run to the relative safety of our “dugouts” as we hope the life-storm will soon pass. We hunker down, pray a little, and worry a lot. We want things to get back to normal. We want the worries to subside. We long for the burden to lift. We want the dawn to break and chase away the dark night.
Sometimes all we can do is wait things out. We agonize and fret and pray for the day when the bear in left field becomes a memory and not a present-day worry. But sometimes we can act proactively. We can schedule that long, put off doctor’s visit. We can wear masks and get a vaccine. We can talk to a trusted friend. We can come up with a plan and start down the list of tasks needed to move forward.
But here is what I find interesting. The interruptions to our lives may be a surprise to us, but they are not a surprise to our Heavenly Father. He is intimately acquainted with all our days. He knows when we rise and when we rest. He knows when we venture out and when we return home. And not only does He know all about us, He cares about our well-being. Because we are human, we will worry about the interruptions. Because we are His, we are held safe and secure. The problem we face is the age-old battle between God-dependency and self-sufficiency. When we rely on ourselves to get through the interruptions, we fret, wring our hands, and crush ourselves with worry. But when we place our trust in the One who loves us, we find a presence, a peace, and a provider. The Scriptures declare, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7)
Please understand. I am not trying to belittle our fears. I am not trying to offer a flippant response to the haunting stress in our lives. I am not even asking you to glibly adopt a “whatever is going to happen is going to happen” mentality. But what I am suggesting is that we take some positive steps while the bear walks across left field. We should take the right precautions. We should listen to those who have more insight and knowledge than we do. We should talk it out with people who love us and care for us. And we should call on the One who has promised to be with us until the end of the age.
Bears will eventually meander away. Dark storms will give way to brighter mornings. Relationships will find their renewed footing. Fears will dissipate. If you are in the middle of a life interruption, see it as just that… an interruption and not a final ending to your story. It will soon be time for the game to begin again.
During your bear delay, may you find strength in the company of both good friends and a good God.
– Jon R Roebuck