Wisdom for Uncertain Times: Advice from 5 Gordon Professors

Though the current state of the world may seem novel, many of us have encountered seasons of uncertainty before. We’ve lost jobs and loved ones. During such events, the wise counsel and insight of mentors can help offer perspective and hope. So, today The Bell is bringing you sage advice from five Gordon professors who know what it’s like to weather long stretches of uncertainty and how to make the most of them.

Create Your Own Daily Rituals

When the future is unknown, Assistant Teaching Professor of English Jennifer West grounds herself in a routine. “As simple as it may sound,” West said, “when the world feels scary and out of control, my daily routines become a lifeline connecting me to the source of strength and peace I know is always available to me as a daughter of the King.”

While running outside or cooking for her family, West seeks to be grateful for life’s regular moments. “These are small and mundane,” West said. “But as Kathleen Norris says in The Quotidian Mysteries, ‘because we are human, it is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God.’ I find that to be even more powerfully true in times that feel chaotic and difficult.”

When the Future is Unknown, Celebrate the Present

It’s easy to fixate on something that has gone wrong, and in doing so, miss out on all of the things in your life that have gone right. Kaye Cook, professor and chair of the psychology department, has a perfect example of what a celebration might look like during COVID-19 season. Recently, her next-door neighbor organized a car parade to celebrate her four-year-old daughter’s birthday while social distancing. Now is not the time to pack away the balloons.

“We need to celebrate one another in whatever way we can,” urges Cook. “Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement . . . We will all emerge from this phase of life with new appreciation for community.”

Come to God with Your Doubt and Grief

When Bruce Herman, Lothlórien distinguished chair in fine arts, lost his brother to suicide, watched his mother descend into alcoholism, and then lost both parents unexpectedly—all in a matter of months—Herman says, “During the hardest times of my life, when I turned in my darkness and grief toward God, I found God was already there, waiting in the darkness for me.”

In telling his disciples not to worry, Jesus was not flippant. Herman explains, “Jesus knew our hearts. He knew that we suffer dread and doubts and fears. But he is actually offering an ‘out’—a means of escape from these negative emotions. This is accomplished not through amulets or special potions or other magical tools. . . The way out that Jesus offers is himself. His friendship . . . He says, ‘Come. Come to me. I will refresh you. I will give you rest for your soul.’ But here is the challenge: We actually need to come.”

Find Comfort in God’s Word

In an Israeli hospital in 1977, 25-year-old Elaine Phillips—now the Harold John Ockenga Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies—was lying on a surgical table paralyzed from the waist down because of excruciating back pain. Before her surgery started, she heard glass shatter all around her. In the six months leading up to this moment, she sang the salter every week at a Scottish Presbyterian Church and had committed much of the Psalms to memory. And in that moment, they came out.

“I’ll admit that I was singing them through tears,” says Phillips. “But nevertheless, I was rehearsing God’s promises of faithfulness in stanza after stanza of metrical Psalms. And in an indescribable shift, the sound of breaking glass was no longer a terrifying threat; whatever would happen next was no longer a paralyzing fear. I was resting in God’s powerful Word.”

God Can Use Us, Even Without a Job

Losing your job or being delayed in finding one does not disqualify you from contributing to Kingdom work. Regardless of what we’re doing, God can use it—even the in-between periods. Daniel Norton, assistant professor of psychology, encountered several jobless stretches post-college. “The nature of getting trained as a clinical psychologist, is that you hold these temporary positions, for a few years each,” says Norton. “And then you have to move on to the next position. Several times, I’ve approached the end of my current job with no ‘next job’ in site.”

During those weeks where Norton lived in uncertainty, he said he was comforted by the fact that The Bible was full of moments where God did not use people’s professions to accomplish his work, but instead used simple, daily acts.

“For example, giving someone a cup of water is supposed to be an eternally significant enterprise; I’m actually serving God when I do that,” says Norton. “I was pretty sure, no matter how the career thing shook out, I could find someone who was thirsty and could use that cup of water. Regardless of the stuff that was out of my control, I could love, serve and lay down my life.”

Dealing with uncertainty is never something we have to do alone. If you’re looking for ways to create your own rituals, find comfort in God’s Word or get the spiritual support you need to weather this period of uncertainty, the Chapel Office has been posting devotionals every Monday and releasing a contemplative prayer and scriptural engagement podcast episode every Tuesday. For more resources, check out www.gordon.edu/remoteliving

Article by Veronica Andreades ’20, English language and literature