COVID – 19 and Complicated Blessings…

Posted by on Mar 28, 2020 in Blog | 16 comments

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I am writing this at a little after 3 in the morning, my jet lagged body refusing to accept that now is the time it is supposed to be asleep. Like many travellers around the world, I have been through a complicated process of rushing home as national borders close, and almost all international flights are cancelled. True, Rosemary and I had been so enjoying my sabbatical leave at Carson Newman University in the USA that we were tempted to miss the last flights out, and thought that there could be worse fates than being trapped on Carson Newman’s beautiful campus in Tennessee. But common sense prevailed and we are safely back in Perth, Australia, and in the early stages of our two week isolation period, grateful that our house is large enough to prevent us going stir crazy whilst in its confines. Its long passage enabled me to clock up 8000 steps yesterday, though Rosemary likened me to a pacing tiger at the zoo, and I did often peer out the window and wonder what it will feel like to walk the pleasant pathways of our suburb again.

Naturally I’ve been thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to make some sense of a world that appears to have changed so dramatically in a matter of weeks. Strangely my main sense is that it is a complicated blessing – one which while devastating in so many respects, also has the potential for significant good.

Now I don’t want to downplay the downside. Thousands of people have already lost their lives, hundreds of thousands more are likely to. I get that there is no way you can attach the word “blessing” to that. Around the world, millions of jobs have been lost, and many families are desperately wondering what the future holds for them. I get that you can’t attach the word “blessing” to that. At a more ordinary level, many valid plans, hopes and dreams have been shattered. I’m not going to tell one of my students from Carson Newman who had to cancel his wedding because of COVID-19 to attach the word “blessing” to the cancelation. There has been a great deal of pain, and as always, it is not evenly distributed. For some COVID-19 is a bothersome inconvenience, for others it is the death of most of what has been held dear. I get that those in the second group would feel a deep sense of betrayal if I attempted to attach the word “blessing” to what they are going through.

But blessings can be complicated, and good can come from brokenness. Here are some things that have heartened me in this crisis.

  1. We have affirmed that vulnerable people matter, and that saving lives is more important than saving the economy. We have long been taught that the fittest survive, and while we don’t try to trample on the vulnerable, we have built a world where that routinely happens. This time it is a little different. Not everyone is at equal risk in this crisis, your vulnerability increasing steadily with your age. In addition, if you have a pre existing health condition, you are at far greater risk. Most people who catch the virus will experience much the same inconvenience that you have when you catch flu – its annoying for a few days, and then its over. So why stop the global economy for that? Answer – because vulnerable people matter and for many of them catching the virus is a death sentence. And vulnerable people do matter – matter more than the economy actually. Am I the only one who has noticed that this is a thoroughly Christian response. We might live in a post-Christian era, but protecting the most vulnerable is definitely the Christian thing to do. I suspect it is one that pleases the heart of God. Let’s give three cheers for the global response. Sometimes we get our priorities right.
  2. As many countries move to a complete lockdown, and people have to spend several weeks at home, we are being given the gift of slowing down. True, those in the frontline of fighting the pandemic are busier than ever, but millions have been sent home for several weeks, their contribution to fighting the virus being to stay at home. It is strange to think that in this crisis the way I best love my neighbor is to keep out of their way – or at least, keep out of physical proximity to them – but then this is a strange time. Perhaps as we stay home, we will discover where home truly is. For some this will be a joyous affirmation. Many parents will spend more time with their children over the next few weeks than they usually do in many months. Great good can come from that. Spouses will have more time together. Great good can come from that. We will have time to master technology and learn how to stay in touch with one another – perhaps we will Facetime friends we haven’t spoken to for years. Great good can come from that. I even noticed that sales of my books have had a little spike. Perhaps people will start to read again. Great good can come from that. And yes, blessings are often complicated. As we are forced to spend time in isolation together we will sometimes discover how broken our relationships are. There will be more than a fair few marital arguments over this time – all the time being spent together highlighting unresolved issues that until now were being glossed over. Tough though that is, if we respond to it constructively, it could be a complicated blessing. Slowing down helps us to spot things we often miss… perhaps we will adopt it as a practice long after this crisis is over.
  3. As churches temporarily shut their services down, we get to ask the “so what is church?” question. We have already seen churches respond creatively to the crisis by moving services online, and by embracing the gift of technology more fully. As most church activities are cancelled, we get to ask the “so which did we miss?” question. It gives us a chance to evaluate what we have been doing, and to ask what it means to be a community of people on a journey of following Jesus. It might help us to gain clarity about what it means to be a twenty first century church, and it gives us the opportunity to explore new ways of being community. This has to be a good thing. And perhaps when we are alone at home, we will discover that we are never really alone. God is often found in the silence; perhaps this will be a time where we become quiet enough to hear the voice of God.

There are many more things that I could say – but its now almost 5am so I better get off to bed. COVID-19 means different things to different people. If for you it brings enormous pain – I am truly sorry. Life sometimes has seasons of overwhelming pain… But perhaps for others there can be some complicated blessings that we shouldn’t miss.

May you experience God’s presence as you travel through this challenging time.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you Brian, so good to have you back. We have missed you. Hopefully you and Rosemary will soon resume your normal sleeping patterns. Bless you both heaps.

  2. Thank you for the words on encouragement and the challenges. Once again, wise words in season. Thank you Brian.

  3. Thankyou for your wise thoughts Brian. God bless,

    Monica

  4. Thank you Brian. You have so eloquently put to word what I have been wrestling with and struggling to say. Prayers of good health to you and your family.

  5. Thank you Brian, uplifting thoughts. Thankful you and Rosemary are safely back. Praying you recover quickly from your jet lag (and don’t wear out the passage way).
    I’ve also found the caring and out reach really heartening, people connecting (from a distance) and offering to help strangers, not just the vulnerable. Seeing the person in the neighbour.

    • Thank you for helping us see the flip side of pain and fear. Surely “God works in mysterious ways. His wonders to perform”!

  6. Thank you Brian.
    Wonderful insights!

  7. Thank you, Brian. Your words are calm and encouraging.

  8. Great to hear from you in these strange days Brian. The Open Book series is being very well received by my staff too.

  9. Refreshing to read your words. Blessed for some are not for others. We know God has us in his hands

  10. Thanks Brian Good to have you back in Aust. Great thoughts and words of wisdom.

  11. Thanks, Brian, for these thoughtful reflections. I’m glad you and Rosemary are home safely.

    Take good care of yourselves.

    Blessings and warm good wishes from London.

  12. Brian I continue to hold such respect for your wisdom. Thank you for writing and raising your voice in the midst of this crisis.

    Enjoy the day you take a step outside! Best regards from the East Coast 🙂

  13. So well written! Thanks Brian!

  14. Brian, this is excellent! Thank you for this.

  15. Brian
    Thank you. I particularly valued your comments about slowing down and also about relationships. Your clarity of comment is refreshing.

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