I encounter many different people in my daily workaday world as both a church pastor and hospital chaplain. Perhaps it goes without saying that this rapidly changing environment of taking precautions with the COVID-19 virus has us all stressed, me included. From my vantage of daily spiritual ministry with both parishioners and patients, it is important and necessary to take the coronavirus seriously without panicking. Here’s what I see works and what doesn’t work when it comes to the pandemic.
What works is taking the situation seriously. Last year 32 million people contracted the flu in this country. Yes, every year people die from the flu. What’s different about COVID-19 is that, thus far, 1% of everyone who has the virus died. Stick with me here. If there were no precautions, no social distancing, and business as usual, it is likely that tens of millions of people would get the virus. With a 1% death rate, 320,000 Americans would die. Ignorance really does kill people.
- Getting your information from reputable sources works. It is available. Use it. The Center for Disease Control keeps its website updated with an abundance of helpful information. And, if you think you may have symptoms of the virus or have been exposed, please, don’t go to your local hospital’s ED. Call the COVID-19 HOTLINE at 866-443-2584. You will likely need to wait, so, please, be patient.
- Social distancing works. If I can stop the spread of the virus through canceling church services for a while and speaking with patients on the phone instead of in person, then I’ll do it. If my actions prevent the immunocompromised people I love and even the ones I will never meet to live, then this is not even a question about whether I’ll practice social distancing, or not.
- Practicing self-care works. It does neither me nor anyone else any good if we constantly give without receiving. Healthy relationships have a healthy rhythm of both giving and receiving. Taking the time to do what makes your soul happy is vital. I am presently being stretched in new and different ways. Handling two jobs isn’t easy to begin with. Under these present conditions, it could be a crushing load – that is, if I neglect caring for myself.
What doesn’t work is being in panic mode. 80% of the people who contract the virus will be just fine, if they care for themselves, stay home, and get better. Yes, we don’t have a choice whether to go to the gym or eat out at a restaurant. There are things we can’t do, whether it is going to our jobs or our schools. The pandemic is straining our economy and personal finances. That doesn’t mean the sky is falling.
- Practicing the age-old sin of avarice through hoarding doesn’t work. Folks panicking through inordinate stocking of meds, goods and services are needlessly and wantonly stretching the healthcare and service systems which are trying to help. We do not live in a culture of scarcity. Hoarding helps no one.
- Brazenly telling people to get a grip doesn’t work. Within the same conversation I have heard individuals express things like “It’s all a conspiracy,” to the other extreme of “What are you even doing here? Trying to get me sick?” and overreacting in fear. If I am honest with myself, I sometimes do the same thing in my own head. One minute I want to enter patient rooms and parishioner homes, wanting to help any way I can in a precautions-be-damned sort of mode. The next minute I’m pondering going full Grizzly Adams, secluding myself in the Northwoods and befriending a bear – all in the concern for not passing on the virus to people I care about. All these words and thoughts are windows into people’s grief over the significant losses and changes thrust upon them. They need to express their grief without flippantly being told they need to get a hold of themselves. This is a time for patient listening and basic kindness toward our fellow humanity so that we all get through this experience. It doesn’t work to frame the situation as God’s judgment or people’s lack of faith. Even if that were so, we still need to exercise grace and compassion in a time of need. I invite you to interpret another’s complaining and/or quarreling as a window into their grief of the changes they are experiencing.
- Making a joke of the current COVID-19 doesn’t work. Although wise and well-timed levity and laughter can aid in coping within all the brevity, misplaced humor can be cruel and damaging. Those who know me expect funny stuff from me. Yet, there’s nothing funny about a virus going around that could do some real harm to the immunocompromised people that I love and care for. I would suggest this rule of thumb: If making jokes is a way of avoiding your own emotions and feeling the sadness and heaviness of the circumstance, then don’t make jokes; and, if the meme or joke is thoughtful and could lighten people’s load a bit, then, yes, thank you of thinking of others.
There is for us a unique opportunity in this season of Lent. For many Christians, each year during these weeks becomes a focus on solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, spiritual reading, repentance and other disciplines of faith. We seek to journey with Jesus in the desert, following him in his ways. Whether we like it, or not, solitude has been forced upon us. We have the chance to come face to face with our own inner selves; to check-in on our elderly neighbors; to connect with our family; to creatively find new green pastures; to pay attention to the values which are most important to us. We can bless small business owners with our patronage. We can find ways to bless the world.
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift-up his face to you and grant you peace. Amen.