I think I can safely say I’ve never lived through a time like this. I’m sure most of us can say that. Oh, to be sure, there are others who have endured much harder trials. To have been a farmer in the plains states during the days of the Dust Bowl. To have lived through the horror of the Holocaust. To have suffered through times of war, facing troops and tanks and bombs. To have seen family and neighbors and entire villages succumb to Ebola. All who have lived through such times, just to mention a few, have faced trials much greater than I face today. And yet, again, I can safely say that I have never lived through such a time like this.
My life, my spiritual practices, my calling and ministry have long been communal ones. I love people—and their presence, and this time of forced separation is very unsettling for me. Who could have predicted that during this season of Lent – a season in which I rarely give anything up – that we would all be forced to give up something? Coming together in groups, in congregations. Going out for a meal or a movie. Traveling out of our area, or around the country or around the world. And we are forced to wait, for this season will very likely be longer than the 40 days of Lent. Therefore, the question arises…for what are we waiting? For this to be over? For a cure, a treatment, a vaccine? For our economy to recover? For permission to congregate in groups larger than ten? For the fear to go away? For restocked aisles in Food City and Walmart?
Yes, of course, we wait for all these things. But is that it? Is that all we wait for? Do we only want the researchers and doctors to find some way of dealing with this virus so that life will return to what we refer to as “normal?” Although we want that, we want our medical professionals to save us from this threat and we want our lives to return to “normal”, there has to be more.
Another question many of us may be dealing with is, “Where is God?” Where is God in the middle of this pandemic? Doesn’t he care? Why would he allow this to happen? I believe the answers to these questions are closely tied to the answer to the question and statement posed above – “Is that all we wait for? …there has to be more.”
I believe that God is exactly where his has been all the time, including in all times of trial. I believe God is here. I believe God is near. I believe that God wants us to know that he is walking through this time with us, just as he was walking with those who lived through the Holocaust or the Dust Bowl or the Great Depression or World War II. I believe God is with us, just as he was with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, trying to understand the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:13-32). God is with us.
And I believe that yes, indeed, he does care. I believe that God can and does and is bringing something good from all things, including COVID-19 (Romans 8:28). I believe that God is telling us that our desire for “normal” is not nearly good enough. Yes, it is a good thing to want to be together in groups – families and friends and Life Groups and churches and schools and teams and work places. We are communal beings, meant and created to be in communion with each other. But more than that, we are meant and created to be in communion with our creator. And if it takes a pandemic for us to truly embrace our great need for a relationship with Jesus, I believe God will allow that to happen. I believe that God knows that even more than we need each other, we need him.
In his song, “Clear the stage,” Jimmy Needham implores us to…
Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg Him please to open up His mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
I encourage you to find and listen to that song. It speaks of making the decision to clear away the things that become idols to us, the things that don’t really matter in life, and giving God the place he deserves…center stage.
May we all, in this unusual and unprecedented time when we have been forced to clear so many things off our stages, use this time to seek God and grow in a relationship with him. And when God provides a miracle and our medical professionals are successful in dealing with this pandemic, when life gets “back to normal,” may we come together as the Church, grateful to the One who has been with us all along and cared enough to call us closer to him!
May God bless you during this time!
Hey...I'm HB. I'm the youth minister here at PVUMC.