Covid-19: Unexpected Losses
There have been times in my life when I have been unsettled, unwell and unhappy. During those times, the unchanging pattern of broader of life has offered me a measure of normality. Like a running machine set on level 12, I have measured by health, (and sometimes my worth) by my ability to jump back on the treadmill and keep pace. So what happens when the plug gets pulled? That is what I have been spending the last couple of weeks trying to work out.
Those of us who have experienced mental health challenges, or chronic physical illness are familiar with having our lives interrupted, but it has always been more individual than this. We have felt like observers, sitting aside from life: Like injured members of a winning team, watching the game from the benches. Covid-19 (coronavirus) has just blown the whistle and suddenly, our juxtaposition to normal has evaporated. I have been prayerfully wondering what evaporated with it:
Our collective sense of invincibility
Our collective sense of invincibility has been a crutch that I have relied upon more than I care to admit. It’s not that I haven’t trusted God, it’s just that beneath my faith, I have fostered an assumption that everything will probably work out OK anyway. As an anxiety sufferer, I have actively encouraged this sort of confidence to counteract more pessimistic thinking but now I wonder if it was ever healthy.
Our invincibility is giving way to the sort of vulnerability that acknowledges the fragility of life and the preciousness of things that we have previously taken for granted. The humility that used to catalyse our trust in God is returning to us as we are arrested by our own powerlessness.
Our Western individualism
Our Western individualism is a social ill that I think we may all have pilloried publicly, but it hasn’t necessarily changed the way that we live. We have defended our freedoms fiercely and often to the detriment of our neighbours and environment. Threads of this instinct have remained evident in the way that supermarkets have been decimated by ‘me thinkers’, but even that is giving way to a gentler, kinder narrative.
Confronted by the reality of our need of others, community is becoming not just necessary but desirable. Our classist and derogatory judgements are being dissolved: We are noticing and celebrating the delivery driver and the hospital porter. Imposed isolation might, ironically be the very thing that brings this country back together again.
Our presumptive and entitled attitudes
Our presumptive and entitles attitudes are getting destroyed. My brilliant big sister Dr Alice is on the NHS frontline. She has never dressed up the facts for me, which has been reassuring when I am overestimating threats. Her straight talking has drilled home that even the best medicine and medical staff (who risk their lives for us) cannot fix this pandemic: Those complaints we made about having to wait a couple of extra hours in A & E to see a trained doctor for free suddenly seems so pathetic. I am ashamed.
Gratitude is the gift that we give to others that feeds our own souls. Standing on the street to clap the NHS or leaving a bottle of hand sanitizer to thank the Post-Person; gratitude is thawing our hard hearts and unfreezing our deep pockets. It is changing our minds about what we value and why we value it. Consumerism is breaking and love is breaking in.
Seeing what God is redeeming...
Eric Liddell wrote, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love.”
This isn’t the time for triumphalism or for simplistic anecdotes. Equally, it's not the moment to close our eyes to the ways in which we are being reformed in vulnerability, humility, gratitude, compassion, and community. This is the time to trust in God’s ability to bring life out of death; the precise means through which we have relationship with him at all. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13, ‘These three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” My prayer is that when we are finally through this calamity, our collective reformation with remain and that it will inform our personal and national life for years to come.
Will Van Der Hart, 31/03/2020