(Written on Sunday January 24th 2016)
Like most of the East Coast, much of the New River Valley shut down in the midst of Winter Storm Jonas. Since I grew up in Ohio, 14" of snow isn't all that rare, but Ohio also has plows and salt trucks to quickly clear roads. Here in Southwest Virginia, however, we just don't have the infrastructure to handle such a quick deposit of fluffy frozen water.
As a pastor, one of the calculations I must make when I think about cancelling church isn't just about whether I can get there, but about the safety of our parishioners as well. With our 4x4 and thirty years experience of travel in these conditions, I'm pretty confident that I can make it most anywhere I need to be without too much risk. Yet, not everyone has the kind of car that we do, nor do they have the driving history of someone who took drivers education with feet of snow on the ground (hand raised). Most importantly, though, if church is open, we have so many faithful people who feel like they should be there, even if the driving conditions in their neighborhoods indicate that the best thing is to stay home. Simply by having worship, we risk turning others' faithful desire for community into unnecessary risks that endanger lives.
So what happens with this kind of snow day? We ended up having lunch with some congregants who have even more snow experience than myself (New England and Alaskan snow stands head and shoulders above Ohio snow). I spent some time with one of our college students who needed a reprieve from campus life. I rode my exercise bike fourteen miles this morning, and fifteen miles tonight. I read some of the Maze Runner series (I'm a sucker of dystopian science fiction).
I also shoveled. A lot. And again. I say again because, starting Friday, I'd been shoveling our path to our driveway at least twice a day. On Saturday, I also dug our Outlander Sport out from over a foot of snow, as well as shoveled a path to the salted, plowed, but nowhere near clear Carter Street. I also went to our church with Billy to shovel and snow blow paths out, just in case we had worship on Sunday.
I discovered something in the midst of this process. It seems that, every time you shovel, more snow falls from the sky. When the clouds move on, though, you're still not safe, because the winds just drift the snow directly into the spots that you've already cleared. There's nothing more frustrating than staring at bare grass in your yard and a huge drift where a brick walkway had been only hours before, at least not while you're standing in the cold with as the bricks beckon to see the sunlight yet again.
There's something deep inside me that would like nothing more than to spend snow days bingeing Netflix, playing video games, or lost in a mindless book. Yet, there's a simultaneous pull, somewhere beyond the selfishness that I feel, that says even when the church is closed, we Christians have a vocation to live out. Much like shoveling the same spot over and again, this vocation requires constant attention. If we wait until the very end, the accumulation may be so great that we can't life it. If we put in the preparatory work, we'll have to work more often, but we'll see more immediate results. Things in our lives tend to drift and cover up the good work that we've done, but it's easier to clear a few inches of snow than to pull up feet at the end of the storm.
We can use snow days not only to clear our walks, but to care for some of those drifts accumulating in our own lives. Have we been left lacking in our prayer lives or devotional practices? Have we been too quick to anger or too slow to forgive? Have we failed to care for our bodies or hone our minds? The lack of scheduled responsibilities open us to the opportunity for redeveloping these areas in ways that help clear the clutter from our lives and reopen pathways to becoming more Christlike in word and deed. This includes resting, if we've not taken the opportunity to experience the blessing of God's Sabbath in our lives.
So, as I dug out the paths once more today, I tried my best to give thanks that I was working muscles that didn't usually get stretched. I thanked God that we own a place, and asked for the strength to care for it better. I gave thanks for sisters and brothers in Christ who stayed at home in the midst of snow, and who braved it to have meals with one another. I tried to uncover a few paths in my ow life in terms of prayer, patience, and planning for the future. I hope that, going forward, I continue to take advantage of these opportunities to grow in the image of God.
Yet, I know that the snow will drift. At times, I will fail. I'll need you, sisters and brothers, to shovel me out. I hope that's okay, because if I've learned anything in this journey so far, it's this: we can't do this alone. Not well. Not always. Shoveling with Billy, I learned that two shovels clear the path twice as fast, and when one of you has a snow blower, the job goes even quicker! To the point, though, this is a call to myself to get better at this process of discipline, of making my habits reflect God more and more. At times, this means admitting I need help, and accepting that help too. At times, it means shoveling for others who can't seem to find the strength or commitment to shovel themselves out. At all times, it means not giving in to despair, not letting the drifts come over our heads, but finding strength in Christ's grace to move forward, to clear the path toward faithfulness. As we do this, as I do it, we just might become faithful on the way.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.