With most of the U.S. and much of the world in quarantine or shelter-in-place due to COVID-19, we gathered our featured authors for a conversation on the challenges and calls to growth through these strange times. We hope you feel a little less alone in joining our conversation.
What’s been your most difficult aspect of this coronavirus pandemic?
EUGENE: The hardest part has been uncertainty for the future. All the questions: When is this going to end? How much longer do we have to do this? Is the summer ruined? When am I going to see my friends and brothers again?
It doesn’t help when you have all these endless Facebook posts from dubious sources going on about worst case scenarios. It’s driving me crazy.
DEAN: I know what you mean about the Facebook posts, Eugene. I’ve had to start limiting what I read on social media. I ignore or mute some posts (or even people) as soon as they pop on my feed for my own mental health.
Honestly, losing my jobs has been my most difficult thing. I am very much accustomed to having tasks to do, so being without that has been a substantial struggle. Of course, that also means finances have been tough, bringing about a whole load of other struggles.
TOM: So many people have lost work in the last month or two; it’s rough. I’m also a task-oriented person, Dean, and at times I’ve really struggled to adapt to this new way of doing things. No more coffee shops in which to work. No more going to my CrossFit gym. No more church, or small groups, or any sort of social gatherings week to week that aren’t held on Zoom.
As much as I’m truly grateful for the internet and technology in this time, the social connection is feeling a bit one-dimensional and sterile after all these weeks.
The ambient noises of a coffee shop, the shared sweat and grunts and music blaring in a gym, the eye-contact and hugs in a church building or restaurant — I just miss experiencing the multi-dimensionality of humanity.
RYAN: The most challenging thing has been the emotional and physical separation that social distancing has added to my life. For all the dear friends I’ve made through online communities like Your Other Brothers, I don’t think I actually do very well with long-distance relationships. I’m tired of Zoom and FaceTime, but I also know I shouldn’t stop.
On the other hand, before the pandemic I was struggling to feel like I was able to find the contact and intimacy I needed, so it’s been discouraging to think that the “return to normal” — the light at the end of the tunnel everyone is looking to — is just a return to that same personal struggle.
AARON: My most difficult thing has been trying to put my own needs aside to be supportive to those around me. I’m an introvert who has generally handled this social isolation fairly well, but in light of that I’ve felt extra pressure to take care of all the people around me who are having a more difficult time. It’s hard to see businesses closing, friends out of work, and extroverts having mental breakdowns without their normal dose of human interaction.
MARSHALL: Because of COVID-19 restrictions on nursing homes and hospitals, I have not been able to visit my 91-year-old father. He almost died and is now almost unable to communicate. I wish I could see him again before he passes away!
TOM: That’s so hard, Marshall. We’re praying for him and you. It’s hard enough to imagine that inevitable reality of one day losing a parent — but to potentially lose one during such a time of pandemics and visitor restrictions must be so helplessly maddening.
MATT: The hardest thing is knowing death is real and knowing we could be responsible for a loved one’s death if we transfer the coronavirus. The past month has hit me pretty hard, because my cousin who lived with us died from an unrelated cause (check out our ConvoCast episode on that story).
It was so sudden, and with shelter-in-place restrictions we had limited resources to prepare for the funeral. We had to be careful so as not to catch or spread the virus. It’s been a strain on all of us, because we couldn’t actually visit one another or vent to our friends in person. We were just stuck!
By some miracle, we found a way to hold a graveside funeral for my cousin, and some family from the Navajo Reservation joined us to help. Now almost every day, I get text messages from my immediate family about someone who has the virus or passed away from the virus, along with some who’ve recovered.
My family on the Rez are scared, and they think they’re next to get coronavirus and die. So, it’s definitely taking a toll on my mental and emotional well-being.
Has God been teaching you anything in these strange times? How have you grown?
DEAN: I’ve been leaning into those fruit of the Spirit I’ve been blogging about recently. What a time for it all. In March, when this all began, I was looking at peace. Then April moved me into patience. Definitely some “choice” options for me. I’m preparing for kindness this May.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been learning that the fruit of the Spirit have little to do with specific actions and everything to do with my character. It’s a shift from my tendency to be focused on “things to do” rather than “things to be.”
It has been incredibly difficult — yet God has been working greatly in my heart during this time.
MARSHALL: I have more of a sense of the brevity of life. That motivates me to take action rather than procrastinate over the important things. When a friendship is deteriorating, I speak up and talk things over rather than remain silent and pretend everything is good.
AARON: I think the highlight of this quarantine thus far was Easter. It is my favorite holiday, and generally I really love a large celebration for the resurrection of Christ. But there was something special and intimate about being completely alone for Easter this year.
God reminded me of the importance of solitude and silence, and He also reminded me of the intimacy in the act of the cross. It’s something we receive and celebrate in the Church corporately, yes, but it was also an act done for the sake of my individual relationship with Christ.
I found myself fully able to rejoice in His resurrection, regardless of my being alone, and regardless of the general mess the world is in right now. It was an experience I likely won’t get again, although I’ll enjoy going back to a big Easter celebration next year.
TOM: That’s awesome, Aaron. Similarly, my quarantine highlight was on Good Friday. It may come as no surprise I resonate with the darker side of Easter weekend, and truthfully I hadn’t felt as close to the Lord in quite some time than on Good Friday.
I took a long walk that day, listening to podcasts and Scripture readings and also walking in silence, pondering my brokenness and the world’s at large, especially now. Then I celebrated with communion over Zoom with my church.
It was strange to bring my own elements of bread and wine to the table in my apartment studio, watching all those little Zoom boxes full of people on a screen. I recognized I may never again experience communion in such a way, and I savored every second of it.
MATT: I’ve been leaning on God’s peace and His promise of resurrection. Ever since Easter, I’ve been thinking: Are you ready for death? Are you ready to see the Lord face to face? Are you ready to hear that one of your own family members has died because of the coronavirus?
During my cousin’s funeral, my dad said something that resonated with me:
“Can you imagine? I’ve said it before, but I’m gonna meet my daughter, my father, my brother, my sister, and I believe we’re gonna meet your cousin once again. Can you see that smile? I can see him smiling. God’s Word encourages us to prepare ourselves, because we don’t know when that day will come for each of us. It’s like all these tickets are being mixed. All these tickets. I wonder whose name will be drawn next? Maybe that’s a bad illustration, but we never know! We never know when our day is going to come. For that reason, we need to be prepared.”
I now hold on dearly to this promise in John 11:25-26:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
EUGENE: Much of this quarantine feels like deja vu, because I spent many years in a sort of “social isolation,” not having any friends. Even though this isn’t ideal, God has shown me my resiliency: I’ve survived this once, and I can do it again.
TOM: I resonate with that deja vu feeling: am I back in college again? Just glued to my laptop every day, doing my “assignments” (blogs and podcasts), digitally communicating with a few people, but not really connecting? It’s strange to feel as if I’ve stepped into a portal many years backwards while still remaining in the present.
But therein lies another thing God is teaching me through this pandemic: daily presence. We all only have today; tomorrow is never a guarantee. Reaching “the other side” of this pandemic is not guaranteed. So, are we living presently, gratefully? Are we committing regular time with the Lord? Are we staying connected with one another and telling our friends and family we love them?
RYAN: I think the Lord has been growing me in taking care of myself and the space around me. I’ve started incorporating times of quiet reflection and meditation into my days. With a simpler schedule I’ve spent more time doing mundane but necessary things like cooking and yard work, rather than paying someone else to do it for me. Historically I’ve hated yard work, but I’m learning that it feels good to take care of my property with my own hands and feet.
AARON: I agree, Ryan; this feels like a season of hyper-growth for many of us. God has challenged me to grow both personally and spiritually. Similarly, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and household chores, as well as quiet meditation and time in the Word.
This isn’t always easy or fun, but I do see the good in it.
How might God be working through this pandemic? What do you hope we and fellow believers take with us to the other side?
DEAN: It seems people are losing the ability to “hide” during this pandemic. It’s as though being forced at home has revealed people’s character more than their being out and about. I believe God is bringing flaws, disobedience, incorrect beliefs, and more to light. The biggest one is how much the western church presumes being a Christian equates to having a happy life
If an all-powerful God who wants people to be happy isn’t stopping a pandemic, either God is evil or God is something other than a magical genie for middle-class Christians. If a theology doesn’t allow for suffering that God doesn’t condone, that theology will be one of the casualties of COVID-19.
AARON: I agree that God seems to be uncovering things in many people’s lives. People are stuck facing their thoughts and problems in a new way right now. I think people see the frailty of humanity and find the reminder of their own mortality to be sobering.
More than that, I think people have a tougher time burying themselves in so much busyness that they have no time for thoughts. The quietness of boredom, job loss, and a more minimal social calendar has given God an opportunity to address issues in people’s lives that have been otherwise hidden.
EUGENE: I definitely agree. This time will show people many areas of their lives that they’ve been neglecting and taking for granted. This could teach people to stop and smell the roses rather than blaze through life being busy with all sorts of mindless things.
Perhaps this time can also show the importance of community and friendships, something that people may see in a vital new way now that they’ve been cut off from it. God always takes horrible things and turns them into something good. Even the most tragic disasters in our past have often had more good than bad come out of them.
MARSHALL: Many of us are realizing how much we need each other! It has brought me great joy to see the restoration of one broken friendship and the start of a new one full of great hope. I look forward to the results from this time continuing!
MATT: Yeah, I can agree with what Dean says about the American church, but what about those who are suffering? On the Rez, in my parents’ denomination, they’ve lost two pastors; not only that, they’ve lost an elderly mother and her adult child due to the coronavirus. People are dying, and they’re losing hope quickly.
We can criticize the American church all we want, but if we can’t also somehow give hope to the hopeless, love to the broken, healing to the wounded, then what? We just proved a point? No. There has to be more than that!
We have to show people that we see them, we know they’re hurting, we’re praying for them, and we’re doing our best to provide for them financially. We’re a family. Because we’re one body!
God comforts those who are hurting, and we, as ambassadors of Christ, must be there to help the best ways we can.
Once this virus has passed, people are definitely gonna remember the church in a very special way if we helped out the least of these. Let’s shut up and start being creative to help our local communities the best ways we can!
TOM: Indeed, Matt. What a time for the Church to rise. As easy as it is to get down on everything happening around the world right now, it’s also an incredible opportunity. And isn’t that just how God works? Taking darkness and impasse and pouring light onto new roads to new realms?
I hope we as the Church never forget this time when community was threatened like never before. A chance for us to forge new connections with one another as well as to reach out to a lonely, hurting world.
RYAN: I hope to maintain those healthy habits I’ve written about. I also recognize that my life doesn’t have to go back to how it was before the pandemic.
What I keep telling people is this feels like a season for deconstruction — a time to observe my life, disassembled — that will be followed by a season of reconstruction. In that season of reconstruction, I can make conscious choices about how I want my relationships to re-develop and how I want my calendar to re-populate based on what I’ve learned during this season.
I’d like to think my church community will emerge from this quarantine with a newfound appreciation for physical proximity and togetherness.
It’s possible this is wishful thinking. Most of my church friends have small children, and it seems like they’re actually finding a new appreciation for solitude.
But on the other hand, I’ve seen folks in my community talking a lot more about the challenges of isolation and loneliness. I’m hopeful that because of this time, the challenges of isolation and loneliness that un-coupled people face in our society will seem less like a fringe concern and more something that our community as a whole is used to thinking about — and responding to!
How are you holding up during this pandemic? How have you grown, and how are you struggling? Let us know in the comments how we can be praying for you as a community.