Oh, dear friends. What a week. WHAT A WEEK.
A few days ago we mentioned to our seven-year-old who was (understandably) saddened about the cancellation of, well, everything, that we are living in historic times. That someday his kids and grandkids will ask him where he was and what life was like during the coronavirus crisis of 2020.
“Historic times?” he asked, lighting up. “Like the Titanic?”
Let’s hope not, eh?
I have no doubt that there will be life on the other side of this pandemic. I also have no doubt that things will never be quite the same again.
In the days and weeks ahead we will, all of us, face uncertainty. We will, all of us, witness suffering. We will, all of us, be called upon to be stronger than we’d perhaps liked to have signed up to be when we started on this trip around the sun.
None of us is loving this. I don’t love the absolute uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow or next week. I don’t love that I have a document on my computer now titled “Family Game Plan for Worldwide Pandemic.” I hate that our church cannot worship in person for the foreseeable future. I hate, hate, hate the magnitude of human suffering that lies before us, at least some of which could have been prevented by listening to experts in Wuhan two months ago, in Italy last month, and in Seattle last week.
But here’s the thing: times are always uncertain. Each one of us will die. That is actually the only certainty we are all handed when we arrive on this earth.
What matters is how we live.
These times will be a tremendous challenge to each of us, but in different ways. Some of us will face financial ruin–the loss of jobs, of 401ks, of a stock market in free-fall. Others among us will face increasing isolation, quarantined or locked down without the comfort of others to see us through. (My extravert friends are tripping ouuuutttt right now.)
Still others will face the struggle of working from home without needed resources, or working from home with children underfoot. I literally did a Zoom call with our Children’s Ministry department yesterday with a huge Frozen II tent behind me because that was the only room without bouncing children in it. Desperate times, friends.
Some of us will be carrying the weight of families as single parents, hoping against hope that we don’t succumb to such illness we can’t care for those in our home. Some of us are in the vulnerable age group or caring for someone who is. Some have autoimmune issues or underlying health concerns.
Some of us are not built for homeschooling and are going to need to homeschool. Oh my heavenly heavens.
And some of us, Lord willing very few, will even contract this virus ourselves or watch a loved one succumb to its worst effects.
It is a lot, friends. It is a whole lot.
The other night I saw this thread of stories of student athletes whose seasons had been abruptly cancelled. Tens of thousands of high school and college athletes headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time or beating cancer to make it to the state hockey playoffs or ready to soar in the spring track and field championships only to hear, “Sorry. It’s over.”
That’s small-scale suffering, really, in the scope of a worldwide pandemic. People are dying and hospitals are breaking and everyone is scared. But this little microcosm of sadness and grief stories nearly broke me. So much potential and hope in these hard working young people and then… nothing.
Like T. S. Eliot says, when the world ends it will be “not with a bang, but a whimper.”
There is so much, friends. And you and me? We can’t hold it all. We simply can’t.
So God will need to hold us.
And God will. And God does.
Want to see proof? As Fred Rogers was fond of saying, “Look for the helpers.” My friend Sonia’s husband is an Emergency Room doctor in Texas and he is running toward this nasty virus, not away. My friend Ruhiyyih is a helicopter flight nurse in the northern woods of Michigan, ready to get on that chopper at any moment. Robbyn is a doctor at a New York hospital, scrubbing her hands and arms like a surgeon before she reenters her house filled with young children at the day’s end.
Closer to home, our church’s inboxes and phone lines have been lighting up with people offering what they can–high schoolers telling us they want to be on the front lines of buying groceries and delivering them to seniors. Stay-at-home moms offering spreadsheet expertise. Professionals teaching us Zoom. Young adults schooling us in livestream technologies. Musicians collaborating across the miles.
Yesterday the deacon assigned to my neighborhood called and left me a voicemail.
“I don’t know what the protocol is for being a deacon for a pastor,” she said, “but I just wanted to check in on you and to say, if there’s anything you need, I am here for you.”
People are doing beautiful things, friends. Playing music on Italian balconies with their neighbors while under government lockdown. Writing poems of truth and strength. Reaching out to their neighbors to see if there’s anything they need.
What can you do? Well, for those of us whose jobs don’t have us out serving on the front lines like the doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, and city workers (thank you, city workers, for picking up our trash! thank you, thank you, thank you!) the best thing we can do to love and serve our neighbors is to STAY HOME. Unless it is “mission critical” (i.e., life or death – food, medicine, or the hospital), stay home.
Make calls instead of visits. Send emails instead of meeting in person. Leverage technology and don’t just stay six feet away from other people: stay home.
Every single person we come into contact with risks spreading this thing exponentially farther. Scientists are beginning to suspect that people can transmit it before they’re symptomatic. Even mild cases have the potential to transmit serious harm to those in vulnerable populations.
The actor Idris Elba tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, and he has yet to show any symptoms. He and his wife are quarantining at home. We should all be just as careful.
My parents live right across the street from us, and because Daryl and I were out so much in the community doing pastoral work last week and because my dad just flew through O’Hare, we literally aren’t visiting each other. We wave from ten feet away on the other side of their fence and then check in virtually. And it absolutely stinks. And it is absolutely the right thing to do.
If you have to go out (and no, running out of almost anything isn’t a reason to go out if you have any other food you can eat), go quickly, do what you absolutely have to do, for the love of all that is good and holy don’t touch your face or anyone else. Then go home and scrub, scrub, scrub. Throw those clothes in the wash. Leave your shoes outside. Clean your phone.
This is a scary time. We don’t know what lies ahead.
But we can do this simple, hard, easy thing and care for one another and the most vulnerable among us.
As a popular Facebook meme going around puts it: The elderly went to war for us. We’re being called to sit on our couches for them. Believe me, we can do this.
Take care of yourselves, friends. Even in our stripped-down routines there is opportunity for exercise, for laughter, for games, for singing. Make the most of time with people within your home who you’d otherwise breeze by on your way to the next thing. Cut yourself lots of slack–some days will be good, some will be rough. Some moments you’ll feel absolutely courageous, other days you’ll need to curl up in a ball for a little while.
Many therapists are making online or virtual visits a possibility (and covered by insurance!), so if you need to talk to a professional, don’t let staying home keep you from getting the help that would be helpful.
Call your deacon or your pastor if you need to. Call your mom. Call your dad. Call your grandparents. Call your kids. Say those things you haven’t said yet but have always wanted to say. Ask for stories. Tell stories. Make art. Write poetry. Play music. Paint your toenails that color you’d never wear in public but you CAN because you won’t be in public for a good while!
We will get through this. And on the other side, we want to look back and say that we lived these days in the light of the Gospel, and cared for our neighbors with all our hearts.
It is in times like these, driven to my knees, that I am reminded what is left when all our usual comforts are stripped away. There’s no NCAA tournament. Our gummy worm stash is running low. If I get sick tomorrow–really, really sick–there may not be enough ventilators in our local hospital to treat me.
But one thing remains.
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
My only hope in life and in death is that I belong, body and soul, to my Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia. (Yes, even in Lent.)