In just a matter of weeks, our nation has been turned upside down. Like you, I have much that I could--and initially did--complain about: travels plans as far off as July suddenly cancelled; projects at work fell apart quicker than an ice cream on a Texas summer sidewalk; children I swore I sent to school were now back at home and learning from the kitchen table until further notice! (“Help!”) These are my horrible first-world problems. (Someone take up a collection, please!)
I began to realize about a week ago about how incredibly fortunate I am. My reflections on my reasons for gratitude evolved into these 10 truths with which COVID-19 has challenged me:
Thou shalt not complain: It’s difficult to whine about not getting a vacation this year when someone is struggling for their last breath simply because they touched the wrong doorknob at the wrong time. This one’s simple: Shut-up, middle-class America! Vacation can wait.
Thou shalt not judge: Interestingly enough, about the time Covid-19 escalated in China, my employer hosted sensitivity training for its ministers. The discussion was eye-opening as we learned of culturally-insensitive phrases that some of us had perhaps used in the past, not knowing their bigoted and often hurtful origin. My wife teaches children in China online. During that three-day training, I recall her telling me about the students missing out on their Chinese New Year celebrations due to the virus and then going on lockdown. Little did we know in January that COVID-19 would soon cease to be a “China problem” and become a global pandemic. Some derogatory assumptions I heard about Wuhan, the seafood market, or eating bats have recently been proven premature and unsubstantiated in science. Perhaps this commandment was not made more clear than when I met an amazing student from our church’s local university whose family is all in China. Her grandfather near Wuhan was sick. Suddenly this became very personal. (Since then, it has been confirmed that he does not have Covid-19). I cringe now if I read of people treating Asians poorly out of fear or prejudice. Judging others only exacerbates the problems. This pandemic is a human crisis, not one nation’s problem alone.
Thou shalt not fear. As Christians, we should know this well. We follow the Prince of Peace, after all. We serve a God who has promised His Presence (Is 43:1-3, Mt 28:20) and Power (Ps 103, Eph 3:20) In fact, the Bible literally states “Fear not” at least 70 times and uses similar phrases countless times! Scripture is clear, anyway, that worrying and fear are a waste of time and are contrary to building a Christ-like character (Mt 6:27). I could easily pin this trait on my introverted, anxiety-prone wife or son. But if I were honest, I just display it differently. I worry about their worrying. I fear the unknown in the days ahead. I may not cease to function, but there are days when it consumes my thoughts. I must choose to claim Isaiah 26:3 instead: “He will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You, because he trusts in You!” Trust is the antidote to fear. Focus on the One steering the ship, not the turbulent wind and waves!
Remember to Sabbath. As a long-time Seventh-day Adventist, I love this one! Twenty-four hours of time set aside for God. But for years now, Sabbaths as a minister have been about lots of work. Lengthy days in worship and meetings and organizing outreach, etc. Plenty of time to serve. But time for truly listening to God on His Day have come with some measure of guilt since the “siren voices” of programs and things to do for God beckon me. One thing social distancing is forcing me to do is to slow down a little on Sabbaths and make time to receive that Spiritual blessing only Sabbath can bring. God could be reminding this extrovert that His Spirit does His best work in me when it is not competing with wonderful programs or to-do-lists!
Honor Your Family. As I hear stories inching closer to our community about loved ones being tested positive or church leaders dying from Covid-19, I realize once again how precious my family is to me. Even though quarantine tests that love (some of us do better with scheduled time apart during the day!), I would still rather endure a frustrating day with my teenagers than not have them around. Times like this remind us of what is most important. Or who is most important. I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can spend time instilling eternal values in my children. And if COVID-19 forces me to sit down and play a game with my son, or discuss a movie together with my daughter, or go for a walk around the block with my wife instead of running off to my next meeting or their next sporting event, then I praise God.
Thou Shalt Evaluate. Both professionally and personally, if we live our lives without feedback and introspection, we run the risk of becoming self-sufficient, routine, unbalanced, and mediocre. Of course, the easiest approach to most challenges is the route with the least energy expended: in other words, doing things the way I’ve always done them. Resist this urge. A global crisis forces all of us to rethink some things, be it our personal budget, an unhealthy relationship, or a professional task...which leads me to my next commandment.
Thou Shalt Innovate. Sincere evaluation brings incredible opportunities for innovation! Adventists should be really good at this. Our pioneers were mostly young and “foolish” enough to try new things until they found the best methodology for proclaiming the everlasting gospel and the three angels’ message. This Pandemic has already challenged the normal operating procedures and policies. It forces all of us to minister with God-ordained creativity, using technology and people resources that haven’t been empowered before. When we video conference our Bible study or prayer group, we are chiseling away at the institution and restoring just a bit of the movement called Adventism. When we create a drive-in food bank, we assert that people’s needs for getting food safely trumps other ministries like social gatherings or lectures. When our staff meetings sound like “What does this person or demographic need this week?” rather than merely filling traditional programming or calendar slots, we attempt to radically reflect the heart of Christ. Thank you, COVID-19!
Thou Shalt Appreciate. From the chance to be outside and breathe fresh air to the simple ability to work in our PJ's from home, we should count our blessings and take nothing for granted. Not just the blessings of provision and health, but appreciate the things which may normally be seen as inconveniences. The noise kids of arguing proves they are developing verbal debate skills (...which just might make one of them a lawyer one day!) Torrential rain showers, though inconvenient, wash away pollen and green up the grass. Closures of retail, though bad for the economy, sure do make for better traffic when you must go out! Pray for that perspective that-- like the Almighty-- seeks to uncover and utilize the diamond in every lump of carbon.
Thou Shalt Plan. At the risk of being gloomy, I'll ask what we all should ask in time of crisis: "Is your house in order?" Are you ready to wake up to Jesus if COVID-19 chose to take you out? In other words, do you have a deep personal relationship with Him separate from church programs? How about your family? Do you have an emergency fund? What about a will or estate plan? Nothing about planning implies lack of faith. (Have you read I Tim 5:8?) Sometimes talking about these things makes us feel older, like we've stopped living. So we push back on it. But truthfully, it's only when we plan appropriately for our Spiritual and financial future that we can fully begin to enjoy the abundant life Jesus came to bring! (John 10:10). It provides peace and assurance. And finally...
Thou Shalt Not Forget. My greatest fear is that this time next year, we will have forgotten the lessons we are all learning now. The hamster wheel will take over again and precipitate a sort of post-crisis amnesia as routine returns. So if, through the COVID-19 crisis you are sensing a realignment in your life or calling, remember these famous words: "We have nothing to fear for the future except we forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." (Testimonies to the Church, vol 9, p 10.3) Write down an action plan for what He speaks to your heart during this timely quarantine. It's too important to ignore.
This unique pandemic is but one more evidence of creation groaning for redemption (Rom 8:21). God did not bring on COVID-19. But it certainly didn't surprise Him either. In the most uncertain and trying of times, He can squeeze something really good out of terrible trials (Rom 8:28) Will you let Him do that for you?