How are you doing now that we have reached the 6 month marker into this pandemic? Most of the people I talk to are doing ok considering what has happened. The challenge is that under the surface is an insecurity about the future, an inability to plan anything for sure, a sadness at the many losses of lives, loss of businesses and jobs, a struggle financially, pressure with kids at home and a level of frustration that doesn’t go away. Every day the news is on the same topic. There has been little to laugh about, and it has caused a stress level that we aren’t used to.
To top it off, it looks like COVID-19 will transform the way we live from this point on. There is no going back to our ‘past normal.’ Life is going to be different and we need to emotionally adjust to the new reality. We have been confronted with the true vulnerability of human life. When we thought it was just the old people who were dying, we find children, young people and middle age coming under threat too. The virus is not a respecter of persons.
We have been learning a new language over the last 6 months. Words like COVID-19, face masks, hand sanitiser, social distancing, lockdown, zoom, quarantine, elbow greeting are marks of 2020 and life from this point on will be different.
On a more positive note, it’s helpful to think how the pandemic has changed our lives for the better. Without COVID:
- I wouldn’t have had such extended times with God
- I wouldn’t have accomplished so many personal projects
- I would never have considered organising an online leadership course and probably wouldn’t have had so many sign up for one!
- People wouldn’t be so open to an online leadership development site like the ELLC
- We wouldn’t have connected so much as a European leadership team
- I wouldn’t have felt such a need for a peer group meeting for sharing and accountability in lockdown
- Perhaps none of us would have had to reach out for new creativity!
Here are some more changes that we are embracing and lessons we are learning:
- Awareness: We are more aware of how infections are passed on through touch and breathing over one another and it may help to lessen the deaths of our regular flu every winter. Who knows how long we will be wearing masks, washing our hands, disinfecting surfaces and being aware of social distancing – these are perhaps the new normal. This is all part of loving our neighbour as ourselves.
- Effective low-cost meetings: How many businesses will encourage more of their staff to work from home, cutting down on expensive office costs? What about in YWAM? How many of our meetings could be cut down and made shorter and sharper with the aid of zoom. When it is possible for us to avoid a carbon footprint, we need to! We love those face to face meetings that cost us a lot of money travelling the globe but often a zoom or Skype call can be adequate and it will help us cut down on those unnecessary travels. This is being a good steward of God’s resources.
- Attitudes of independence: These kind of attitudes have arisen in many nations. There has been a reaction to government guidelines of social distancing and mask wearing. Sometimes it’s only when we have our freedom challenged that we realise some of the things that lurk beneath! It seems that entitlements (the new word that is used instead of ‘giving up rights’) have become stronger and we have become more self focused. Jesus is wooing us to become totally dependent on him and interdependent with others.
- Church: I just wonder if God has been breaking off a wrong idolatry to buildings – perhaps in YWAM too. I wrote recently in a leadership letter about the Pharisees’ focus on the temple and how Jesus came with a message of the Kingdom and to be free of temple structure. Could it be that church as we know it should be changing? Church and YWAM bases should be about community and intimate relationships. Perhaps there is a mix of digital options and small group intimacy and a less reliance on the structure. ‘Behold I will do something new.’
- Global levelling: We have all come to the awareness that the world has been levelled and no country has been spared. We are all in this together. There is a new sensitivity to the fact that life is fragile. Having had the virus myself, there was a thought of being in the danger zone age and this could mean death! It’s sobering and my kids were very relieved when we didn’t need to be hospitalised. Everyone is of value, no person or race or nation is more important than any other.
- Global village: The realisation more than ever that we are all linked – what we do in one country does affect the next. We can’t make decisions in one nation without it affecting others. Not everyone has got a hold of this lesson but it’s clear to be seen. We are a global village and the spread of the COVID-19 shows it so clearly.
- Attitudes surfacing: Fears and insecurities have come to the surface in many lives. The news every day has been all about the pandemic – the never-ending figures of new cases and deaths. For some it’s the thought of ‘is it me next?’ For others, instead of fear, they create conspiracy theories and try to avoid the pain. Not being able to plan or think ahead has been frustrating and just not knowing what the future holds brings stress, worry and insecurity. Insecurity, however, can cause people to be open for help. Hearts can be made softer and there is the possibility of a fresh awakening to recognise that Jesus is the rescuer they have been looking for. It’s our opportunity to reach out to those around us and give the message of hope.
- Sifting and Pruning: There’s been a sifting. Teams and bases have sent staff and students home and it requires a second launch of commitment. Funds are low, life is more challenging and who will have the resilience to continue? The word on pruning from Tom Bloomer reminds us that dead wood is burned, good fruit bearing branches are cut back and everything can look a little bleak for a time. But there is good news at the end of the day – God is looking to cleanse us, purify us, focus us and make us more fruitful as we respond with trust and hope in him.
So, with all these thoughts, how are we to respond and continue to live in this crazy season of time that we have never known in our lifetimes? The bottom line is this – I don’t think God brought this pandemic about, I don’t believe it’s a judgement – when we look over history there are continuous hurricanes, earthquakes, natural disasters and our world is groaning. There is a cup of blessing and suffering for us all. Remember the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. However, through everything God wants to teach us and train us and speak to us. Where we have drifted away, we are to repent and return to him. We are to seek his face and ask him in the words of Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
My wife, Rite, loves the image of the maize and the labyrinth. The maize has dead ends and the direction is never straight forward. The labyrinth, on the other hand, has one road that twists and turns but leads to the centre and back out again. Our God has us on a labyrinth – we will come through this and if we put our trust in him, seek his face for the treasures he wants to share with us, we will emerge with greater intimacy and resilience.
Our focus is to ‘love God and love others’ We are called to community. Has it been activities holding us together? Has it been the vision? Has it been our passion and drive? He is calling us to make Jesus our clear central focus. I am his and he is mine. Jesus’ first concern is that our cup is clean on the inside – remember the Pharisees only focused on the exterior. Let’s not fall into the same trap. We are to be a grateful, worshipping, joyful people in the midst of all our circumstances.
I end with Psalm 32:8-9 from the Passion translation:
‘I hear the Lord saying, “I will stay close to you, instructing and guiding you along the pathway for your life. I will advise you along the way and lead you forth with my eyes as your guide. So don’t make it difficult; don’t be stubborn when I take you where you’ve not been before. Don’t make me tug you and pull you along. Just come with me!”’