Love in the Time of COVID-19

Gentle Reader,

I stayed home from church today. I feel completely fine, but took the opportunity to get some extra rest as my pastor made the decision to cancel second hour discipleship groups (aka Sunday school). I didn’t have to be there to teach, or to do any administrative work, so it was sweats, a cup of coffee, and tuning into the livestream for me.

And you know what?

It kinda sucked.

I appreciate that my church streams its services. This has been important for me in the past, when I’ve been stuck at home for weeks at a time due to illness or surgery. But there really is nothing like being with people who have become part of your family. There really is nothing like hearing your voices blend in a not-always-pleasing harmony as you worship God together. I missed seeing my friends. I missed hugging my students and listening to them talk about things completely unrelated to the lesson I prepared.

So, I get it. Social distancing is annoying; who wants to remain six feet apart from friends and loved ones? Choosing to go beyond that and stay at home when you feel fine seems stupid. Go ahead and complain.

But do it.

Some of you want to roll your eyes and flip the bird at me. It’s no big deal. People are overreacting. It’s just the flu. I’ll do what I want.

And that, my friend, is unloving.

That, my friend, communicates to vulnerable people – those with underlying conditions that make catching “just the flu” far more complicated, the elderly, those without financial resources and medical insurance, and those with crap immune systems – that you don’t care what happens to them.

To us. Because I fall into that vulnerable category. My liver wants to kill me and my immune system sucks.

I know that I am responsible for taking care of myself. I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to hurt. I’m checking my temperature twice a day. I’m not hugging anyone. I’m allowing myself to take naps as often as I need to, because it’s vital that I don’t become run down. I’m drinking lots of water. I’m eating good foods. I’m figuring out a good exercise routine, because I need to stay active, but, again, I can’t become run down. As to going out in public, I’m taking that moment by moment, asking God to give me wisdom as to when to brave the wider world and when to stay tucked away at home. A lot of this, I do all the time, because I have to be vigilant; I can catch anything at any moment and be knocked down.

I’m not asking you to do any of this for me. I’m not asking you to bear a burden that is only mine to carry.

What I am asking of you is that you take a moment and think. While you may contract COVID-19, have a mild case and recover quickly, or even remain asymptomatic, that’s not the reality for everyone around you. By being flippant about it, you can easily spread the virus among people who are not as naturally equipped as you are to fight it.

That said….

Some of you are in panic mode and you’re buying very strange things in large quantities, like all the toilet paper in the land.

STOP IT.

Over-reacting, my friend, is just as unloving as under-reacting. Yes, it is good and wise for you to take care of yourself and your family. It’s not wrong to have some extra supplies around. But you do not need to hoard. Your hoarding means that the vulnerable population mentioned above does not have access to the things they need to take care of themselves.

Arrogance and ignorance are plagues upon our ability to love and reason well in the best of times. We cannot afford to indulge either during this crisis. Yes, it is a crisis. It may not seem so to you right now, but the truth is that our medical system is not equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of people flooding the hospitals, whether they actually have COVID-19 or they’re just afraid they do. If we do not all practice caution, we will end up as Italy is at the moment: doctors without necessary tools, leaving them in the anguished position of choosing who to treat and who to leave to fate.

It’s annoying and crappy and weird and unsettling. Nobody ever expects to live through a time like this. But if we all choose to exercise caution and love our neighbors, we can flatten the curve. We can get through it.

What does loving our neighbors look like right now?

  • Accept the fact that you won’t get to socialize as much as you like. It’s okay to feel annoyed or depressed about it while you process the situation. But you have to reach the point of accepting it, otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. Take it from one who’s been on medical house arrest before: it’s much easier to get through if you choose to look for the good and the joy, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do or have.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.
  • Check in on people, especially those who are vulnerable. A text or phone call means a lot to someone who’s worried or stuck at home.
  • Pray. For others. For yourself. Ask God for both peace and wisdom.
  • Listen to the experts. They actually do know more than you do.
  • If somebody needs soup or toilet paper or Oreos and you have some to spare, share.
  • WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • DON’T. TOUCH. EACH. OTHER.

Love is going to look a lot like common sense and compassion. It’s also going to look like making decisions you’d rather not make, like canceling group meetings and vacations. But that’s what the people of God do. We don’t just think of ourselves. We think of others.

With apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for the riff on the title of his novel,
Love in the Time of Cholera.

Weary with Moaning

Gentle Reader,

Check me out, writing something that’s not for a seminary class.

I decorated the house for Christmas last week. A sign reading “all is bright” sits on the cabinet, just beneath the television. I can’t escape the words. All – everything. Bright – light.

That’s not Advent.

This year the darkness of Advent settles around me. Candles and tree lights pierce the gloom, pointing to the joy of Christmas day and the hope of Christ’s return. But just as I can’t escape the words on the sign, I can’t escape the tension of the season. Longing. Waiting. Wondering. For what, exactly, I think cannot be defined. Something – a peace, a fulfillment – that is just beyond the brush of our fingertips.

Humanness, aching for ultimate reconciliation with the Divine.

Words swirl together in my mind:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

– Psalm 6:2, 6-7; Matthew 26:38-39 (NRSV)

Are you tired? Do you find yourself thinking that you should (terrible, soul-sucking word) be feeling a certain way – joyful, energized, ready – but instead you feel drained?

That’s okay.

Really.

Let that out, in the presence of God.

I can’t get the image of Jesus in the garden out of my mind. I understand that these verses speak in multiple ways. They record: Jesus wanted His friends to be with Him in His hour of need. They point: us needing to be watchful and waiting, eyes fixed on Heaven. But they also instruct, something I have not picked up on until today: Jesus calls us to stay awake not only to and with Him, but to and with each other.

So when we’re feeling tired, when we’re weary with moaning, when the darkness of Advent threatens to snuff out the candles and the Christmas lights, we don’t only need to express that emotion in the presence of God. We need to express that emotion to each other.

Be watchful, for how God moves in these days.

Be watchful, too, for shadows of grief on the faces you see each day.

The movement of God and the movement of the shadow come together in an opportunity for you and me and us together to love – really love – as we are meant to.

To be the Nurturer

Gentle Reader,

I guess I’m a hugger now.

For someone who’s a bit of a germaphobe and is always trying to protect her right side, this is a complicated development. It does not naturally enter my mind to reach out and gather someone close. That’s why I know this urge has been planted in me by the Holy Spirit. I begin to recognize how much people long to give and receive healthy touch. To know that they are cared for. And I am deeply moved by that recognition.

Attending teen camp a couple of weeks ago was quite the experience. The pendulum swung wildly between the highest highs and the lowest lows. The first two days, I wondered why I was there. A definite sense of not belonging, because while I do like to play and have a good time, I am wired for the quiet moments and one-on-one conversation. Contemplativeness is not a trait generally associated with youth ministry; we think hype and loudness and messiness when we think of teens. And there is a place for that, of course, but there’s only so much loudness I can take before I teeter on the edge of a complete meltdown.

So, what could I bring to the table? What was the point in my being around?

The third day, it clicked. Teens don’t always express exactly what they need (really, adults don’t do that, either), but as I sat in the chapel and watched students wrestle with the message they’d heard, I didn’t have to think about how to respond. I just started praying with people. I put an arm around each person, and, without exception, they sighed heavily and relaxed against my shoulder. And Jesus smacked me on the head, as He often does, and asked me, in that quiet way of His, if I was going to stop wondering why I don’t fit in and just do what He’s called and designed me to do

You don’t design your ministry. That’s how we approach it, and that approach is all wrong. God designs us to do what only we can do in the way He’s asked us to do it. For too long we’ve focused on programs and processes and been content with slotting people into “leadership positions” that don’t require leading, but rather just replication of a party line and way. I wish you could hear me speak these words aloud, because there is no condemnation here, but rather a sense of clarity, an understanding of what I’ve been battling for so long and why I don’t need to battle it anymore.

The Church does not value the nurturers, but the Church needs them. Or us, I should say.

Believe me, I never imagined using that term to describe myself. Yet I know in my bones that people need to understand that they are loved. That they are safe. They need to know that they can have conversations, ask questions, and just be themselves. this doesn’t mean that I don’t speak and teach truth, because that’s a vital part of nurturing. But instead of lecturing someone from a lofty position of cold authority, I grab their hands and invite them to follow Jesus as I follow Jesus.

For most of my life, I have run away. Kept myself hidden as much as possible. Some of the reasons for this are valid, and ones that I will continue to work through. But mostly, it’s the dread and fear, pounding in my chest. Now, I want those feelings to be replaced by the holy love that pushes me to run toward. Even if I get beat up, or looked over, or stepped on.

I must be about my Father’s business and will, come what may, even though my approach to that work looks different from others’. Oh, I’m going to keep stumbling and falling and crying and doubting. Highly doubt I will ever be one of those ministers who seems to have it “together.” I think that’s okay, because the consistent sense of my own fragility keeps me grounded in grace. And so I can stop beating myself up for not being whatever it is that I or others think I should be. What freedom! What sweetness! What joy! What great adventure!

Wind in my hair, sun on my face, flowers in my hands. Arms ready to embrace all I encounter.

I’m going to love lavishly, because that’s how God loves me.

Yes, Jesus. Grant me the eyes to see as You do, the mouth to speak as You do, the heart to love as You do, and the willingness to go as You do.

To Love as God Loves

Coming back to a post I began a month ago. A month! I have much to share with you about that month, but before all that, this, which flows into and provides context for the that.

Gentle Reader,

I stare into the mirror. An ordinary-looking woman meets my gaze. The afternoon light shifts, highlighting the gold tones in her brown eyes and the red in her brown hair. She looks a little tired, but she always looks a little tired. There’s something else about her face today. A sadness. A weariness.

Time is short, my dears. The days seem to stretch on, but before we know it the clock winds down and the alarm sounds. Breath, God-given and sustained, leaves a loved one’s chest. The spirit flies into eternity, waiting for the day when the Father tells the Son to go and fetch His Bride.

And so I think we have not minutes to waste in petty squabbling. Yes, some hills are worth dying on. I may be mostly a gentle puffball, but I’ve enough of a fighter in me to know that to be true. But most of the things we spend energy on, the conflicts that rob us of both peace and sleep, are pointless. Useless. Do not, in any way, impact the grand scheme.

Perhaps we can choose a holy way of expending the energy and passion that fuels these fights. Perhaps we can throw ourselves, body and soul, into love. Loving the way that God does, something beyond affection and deeper than preference. The kind of love that means something. Costs something. The sort of love that we all ache for in the middle of the night.

Romance is not dead, my darlings. It is greater than the longing glances exchanged by couples in cheesy movies, more than eroticism. Romance is the deep mystery, the grand adventure, found in walking with Jesus. He beckons. He calls. He woos.

Then, somehow, He creates a family out of the called.

Like any family, we are dysfunctional.

But we’re still family.

And so our language must be seasoned with love and tempered with grace, for these are brothers and sisters, beloved ones, with whom we interact. Do you realize that? Do I? God calls us His beloved. Are we that kind of community? One that operates out of belovedness? Beloved of Him, beloved of each other?

What if we cared? Really, truly, cared? Paused and actually listened to that prayer request, and prayed then and there? Laughed with each other? Cried with each other? Were all up in each other’s business, not out of mere curiosity or nosiness but because that’s what people who love each other do?

There is a radical quality to the love of God, a quality that I begin to see is passed on and pressed into those who call upon His Name. The sort of sacrificial, selfless love modeled by Christ is ours to learn and share with the world. We do not drum up this love within ourselves by force or will. No, it arises instead out of time spent at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes that looks like hours of quiet contemplation. Sometimes that looks like a full day with hardly any room to breathe. Sometimes that looks like something in between the lull and the busy. But it always looks like a person devotedly – not perfectly – seeking the Savior’s will.

What an impact we might have upon this place, if we loved as He loves!