One of my closest friends owns a bakery in Chicago. It’s been open for 8 years and has followed all the ups and downs a small business experiences in its infancy. There have been seasons when she was planning to close and others that allowed her to expand into the shop next door. There have been times when she was able to hire a few staff to help run the business more efficiently and others when she had to everyone go. Her current service from the shop is take-out only. Her dining space hasn’t been open for months. After Chicago’s initial shelter-in-place order was relaxed and she re-opened her shop, she was worried. After years of blood, sweat, and tears, she was once again facing the prospect of closing. Business trickled back in. Her shop is known for customer service, creative sweets, and croissants. I can offer a personal testimony for how delicious those croissants are! But even her stellar reputation for quality, service, and creativity wasn’t helping her business recover. Some of her business acquaintances encouraged her to open her shop fully and allow people to come in and eat. She was not comfortable with that, believing that it was too dangerous. In one of our phone conversations, she said to me, “I feel like I’m having to choose between offering the safest experience for my customers and staff or making money.” It seemed like she was on a fast track toward the worst-case scenario: closing for good. And then something interesting happened. When she re-opened, she kept her dining room closed (it is still closed today) but offered “grab-and-go” treats, including her well-known croissants. One Saturday in September, she sent me a quick message to say it was 10:30 am and she was completely sold out. (Her shop opens at 9:00.) It must have been a fluke, she thought, but the next weekend brought the same demand. This continued to increase as the weeks went by, and now, heading into the holidays, she is hardly able to keep up with the work. She’s been able to hire staff again. She has noticed something about her regular customers: they are finding a way to make life work during very scary pandemic circumstances. Rather than mark the experience of her delicious baked goods off their list because they couldn’t enjoy them on vintage china with slow conversation the way they always had, they adjusted their routines and expectations and picked them up on the go. And they didn’t just pick up a pastry or two; they cleaned out her pastry case and ordered more. When my friend and I talk, she is always tired yet always amazed at the transformation that has saved her business. Her customers, abiding by difficult restrictions on their daily lives, have found a way to continue to enjoy a treat from time to time. My friend has found a way to help her business not just survive but grow in unexpected ways. None of this was in her business plan, and the new growth is proving to be somewhat fragile, but her outlook is much better than it was in May 2020. Why do I share this story with you? This morning when I opened the maps, graphs, and COVID-19 reports I look at regularly, I felt so discouraged. The map of our nation has so much red on it. The line graphs are alarming. The numbers of new cases are astounding. Is this our proverbial darkest hour before the dawn? My friend has reminded me of the patience it takes to tackle something hard, to make our way through hard times together. Her courage and perseverance have helped me remember the story of the Israelites in the desert, complaining against God about the difficulty of their circumstance after having been rescued from Egypt. When she thought things were at their worst, she relied on her faith to get her through. Prayer, hard work, care for others, and paying attention to the circumstances in which she found herself helped to get her through a difficult time. What are you praying for right now? My prayers generally follow the pattern of a collect:
There is an address to God and to God’s character or actions in the world on our behalf.
There is a request.
There is an invocation and doxology—inviting God to act in our lives or in a specific situation and praising God for God’s presence at all times and in all circumstances.
And there is The Amen, or “May it be.”
Here is an historic example: Everlasting God, you gave us the faith of Christ for a light to our feet amid the darkness of this world. Have pity on all who, by doubting or denying it, are gone astray from the path of safety. Bring home the truth to their hearts, and grant them to receive it; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (WILLIAM BRIGHT, ENGLAND, 19TH CENT., ALT.) We might pray something like this today: God of mercy and grace, you have shown us strength and care by rescuing your people from Egypt, from slavery, and from trying to live outside of your presence. Give us courage to face this pandemic and the changes it has brought to our life. Help us to see that our lives rest in your hands, our future in your path, and the path to abundant life comes through caring for one another. We pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior, and our Brother, Amen. My friend’s constant prayer has been, “God, you have never left my side. Show me what to do next. I put it all in your hands. Amen.” She is finding new ways to trust God for her future but also for her right-now. We can do the same. Try your hand at writing a collect (pronounced “CAH-lect”) for your daily prayer practice. Spiritual practices will help us get through even the darkest times. In the name of Jesus, may it be. Amen.