For the past few weeks, there have been so many thoughts swirling in my head. I’ve tried to write them down many times – yet somehow every time the words don’t fully come. I’ve realized in part that I’m enough of an extrovert that lack of interaction with people can dry up all the words flowing in my mind.
But it’s also because while there are so many things being said – and I don’t want to add something not helpful to the noise.
During times of doubt, crisis and stress – I tend to ask myself a question: what do I know to be true? In Philippians, when Paul exhorts believers to not be anxious, it’s followed by the reminder to focus on whatever is true (Phil. 4:8). There are many things that I know to be true. While these ideas/thoughts aren’t specific to the times, they are what keeps coming to my mind. They are truths that exist every day – and helpful to think about as we have time to recalibrate during these uncertain times.
- It’s okay if you’re not okay.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the song by We are Messengers that says, “maybe it’s okay if we’re not okay ‘cause the one who holds the world is holding onto me.”
We live in a society where we think we always need to be okay. We answer I’m fine or I’m good when people ask – and on rare occasion when we share a real struggle in response to the rote “how are you” question, people may be uncomfortable or taken aback.
We can think we need to automatically bounce back from loss or deep pain. We can see grief or lament as a sign of weakness. Yet, as we look through Scripture and history, grief and lament are deeply important. There are pages of the Bible filled with grief – with people pouring their hearts out to God in the midst of unanswered questions and unknown circumstances. Isaiah 53, a prophetic text about Jesus, the Messiah is described as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
2. Give a lot of grace.
I saw an article a couple weeks ago that said something like 1/5 people had gotten in arguments about the coronavirus with family members. I couldn’t find the article (so I apologize if that’s inaccurate)– but I do remember thinking, “I’m shocked the number is that low.” I would guess most of you reading this have experienced some sort of conflict about COVID-19 – and it could just be conflict with everyone being home together!
In the midst of high-stress situations, people can act/react in ways that are far outside their normal character. And it’s easy to jump to condemnation. I know I’ve been guilty doing this many times (and that might just be today). Yet, while I’m quick to judge others, I hope that others show me grace in the moments where I jump to conclusions, respond too quickly or forget what really matters. And I’m continually convicted that I need to show the same grace to others as what I hope they would show to me.
I know this may come as a shock to some – but it’s highly unlikely anyone reading this is a COVID-19 expert. Yes, we may have all read many articles by experts of various stripes – scientists, professors, doctors and politicians – but we really don’t know the whole picture. And probably won’t for quite some time. Let’s also give grace in this. People may express opinions you don’t agree with. But is it worth fracturing of relationships to figure out who is really “right?” I would very rarely say yes (and also something that’s important to remember as we approach yet another joyful season of elections).
3. Focus on what you can do – not what people might do.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about what some people might do. People might get desperate and start rioting the streets. People could start looting. People might panic and do crazy things. Obviously, we have seen some crazy things happen. It’s not every day that someone is practically attacking an old woman over toilet paper in the grocery store (but that video does exist).
But I wonder how I would be different if we instead focused on what we can do. How can you help those around you who are hurting? How can we be forces for good in our community? How can we find ways to help and serve those in need?
I don’t know what God might be calling you to today – maybe it’s sending a text message to an isolated friend, maybe it’s picking up groceries for a homebound neighbor, maybe it’s donating food to a local foodbank. But I do know that we can be part of people might do – how people might start showing love and kindness in ways never seen before.
4. Think about the big picture.
Perspective can be a pretty powerful thing. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in II Corinthians 4, where Paul reminds us that our “light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
In the midst of restrictions, fear and a completely different way of life, it can be hard to remember this is a moment in time. And even in this difficult moment in time, there can be many good things. A friend reflected that perhaps many years from now this will be a time his kids remember daily breakfasts with their dad.
I’ve also reflected on how many people around the world live with much more intense restrictions than I’m experiencing now every day – with no hope of respite. My heart breaks when I think about people (mainly women and children) around the world trapped in human trafficking and the number of refugees displaced from their homes living in camps – not knowing if they will ever truly have a place to call home.
As I was thinking of many of us “trapped” in our homes for relatively short periods of time, I’m reminded to pray and advocate for those who have no means to escape far more devastating circumstances. This is not to diminish the difficulties people are experiencing (lost jobs, decreased income, etc.) – but to remember the many comforts we enjoy that many may never have the opportunity to have.
5. Focus on priorities, not plans.
Americans really love to make plans. When I lived in China, this was especially obvious. Sometimes a Chinese friend would give me an odd look when I tried to plan lunch a week in advance. When I returned to the US, it seemed I’d be unlikely to have lunch with a friend if I only asked a week in advance. But this is a time, when it’s very hard to make plans. Things are rapidly changing day to day. It reminds me of my favorite Chinese proverb: “plans can’t keep up with changes.”
But in the midst of this, we have an opportunity to focus on our priorities – and perhaps even reprioritize our lives. I had been reading John Mark Comer’s Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (I didn’t hurry enough through it – so now I have to wait 6 weeks to get it again from the library!). Comer talks about our cultural obsession with hurry – and how that keeps up from truly living and loving as Christ call us to do.
What are daily rhythms, habits and disciplines we hope to be part of our lives? How can we take time now to refocus and establish those priorities at the center of our lives?
The Bible is filled with admonishments to remember, with the sobering line “lest you forget.” We are a forgetful people. That is why there is so much emphasis on recounting, writing down, making clear signs of what God has done.
This is a time when it is so important to remember. It might be important to sit down and write the times when God was faithful in your life. Remember what really matters. Remember what the Lord has done. Remember the character of God.
Write down small encouraging things that happen each day. Say a prayer of thankfulness for those things.
Lamentations 3:19-23 says:
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
Ultimately, when we remember – we can grieve and lament – but we are not a people without hope – because the faithful Lord who rescued his people again and again is the same one who upholds us in the midst of worldwide pandemic – and every other day.
I hope you find some hope and encouragement in these words. Recently, I wrote about the Chiefs bringing Kansas City together. But this crisis can have a way of bringing many more people together, even as we’re in our individual homes. My hope & prayer is that we can look for ways for it to bring us together with our neighbors – next door and on the other side of the world – instead of it tearing us apart.