We all know that the struggles and fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic are not solely centered on physical health. One of the well-documented struggles in this time of social distancing is loneliness. In my phone, text, and email conversations with others, loneliness is taking a toll on people. The isolation due to coronavirus heightens our awareness of the need for community with one another. As God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:2). Being made in the image of God, who exists in the Trinitarian community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, means that we have a built-in need for community. This is why continual isolation is so difficult for people. I recognize that social distancing is needed at this time in order to show love to one another. Please continue to do so. In this way we are showing love to one another by “doing no harm,” as John Wesley would say.
Another weighty concern in our coronavirus reality is our feeling of “usefulness.” A great number of people—perhaps even some who are reading this—have lost jobs by being laid off or furloughed or have had their jobs significantly changed or hours reduced. Still others, have had to suspend volunteer work, putting their passion to serve on hold. Beyond the economic impact of these changes, there is also the lingering question of “what is my usefulness?”
Mark 1:35-37 says that early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus went to a desolate place to pray. Simon Peter, along with others, searched for him. Finally, they found Jesus and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” In other words, “What are you doing out here praying by yourself? This is a waste of your time. You need to be healing diseases and casting out demons. You are not functioning as you are supposed to, and you certainly are not meeting our expectations.”
Our country, and I would say most countries, place primary value on our function. That’s why one of the first questions we ask someone when we met him or her is, “What do you do?” In other words, “What is your function in society?” Due to this nature, we place a great amount of our personal identity in our performance and productivity related to our work. Work is important---after all, God did place the first humans in the garden to work, guard, and protect it. The first humans were also charged with holding sway over creation. However, that work would find its true purpose in relation to their identity as God’s children. When work takes precedence over our identity as God’s children, our lives easily get out of balance. It’s devastating enough when employment is lost, changed or put on hold. Yet, when we find ultimate significance through our jobs, we despair when they are gone, put on hold or significantly changed.
I must admit that I, like you, have days when I wish things were back to the way they were (although, I’m fairly certain that some things have changed for good). However, this season of everything being upended is allowing more time for personal prayer to re-evaluate what my life says I so blindly value. I recently read something from Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, that spoke volumes to me now that the noisiness of the world has become eerily quiet. I am sharing it in the hopes that it might speak to you as well. Nouwen writes,
A life without a quiet center easily becomes delusional. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, we become possessive, defensive, and dependent on false identities. In the solitude of prayer, we slowly unmask the illusion of our dependencies and possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can control or conquer but what is given to us from above to channel to others. In solitary prayer we become aware that our identity does not depend on what we have accomplished or possess, that our productivity does not define us, and that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.
Nouwen goes on to say that prayer is “wasting time with God” and “being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily to do nothing useful or productive in the presence of God.” As tragic as the COVID 19 pandemic is, it also provides an opportunity to anchor our identity as God’s beloved children and to waste time with him in prayer. This is the way to recovery from lives that all too easily place value on what we can produce.
May the peace of Christ be with you all.