On March 1st of 2020, Carol and I flew out to Tucson, Arizona, for a much anticipated two week stay in the small city that we have come to really enjoy even though we don’t travel there as frequently as we used to.
Those two weeks were unusually sunny and quite mild and afforded us many opportunities to be outside together, whether hiking, biking, or just walking around and enjoying the natural beauty of Southern Arizona.
On March 15th we flew back home to Pittsburgh and were advised to have some sort of face covering and even some gloves when we travelled on the airplane through Dallas.
Within the next 48 hours we felt like we had been dropped down onto another planet. We had left the place of openness and sunshine, respect for personal space, but no overt sense of crisis or fear.
By March 18th, just three days later, things were beginning to close up throughout our state, almost every form of human contact was under scrutiny from shopping in a grocery store, to going to school, to even how we were told we could worship our God together.
Our corona task force at the highest level challenged us to spend two weeks in very restrictive social patterns in order to “flatten the curve of the spread of the virus.”
As we all know, that two weeks became another six weeks which then seemed to rise and fall throughout the summer with spikes here and there and yet virtually the same level of restrictiveness imposed throughout our culture in every area of life.
The last two months have been as painful as any of the previous eight months in terms of the implications, and on top of all that has been going on with regards to the pandemic, our nation has been embroiled in the most contentious ideological, racial, cultural and political divide that I can ever remember.
However, we have all been compelled to readjust our expectations for how we connect socially and spiritually as well as fulfilling our daily responsibilities and fundamental roles whether they be of parenting, working, schooling, worshiping, sports and a long list of other practices that were unrestricted less than a year ago.
And though many people came to the end of 2020 with long laments of the things that they had lost during this unexpected and underestimated pandemic, let alone the contentious and constant drone of deep division and outright hate with regards to many of our fellow Americans and their positions on the issues mentioned before, I see a bit of a silver lining coming out of this year and moving into 2021.
First, I’m fairly certain that many of us will never take for granted what it means to be completely free to engage with other people in natural and unrestricted ways, especially our closest and dearest family members, the people that we have been blessed to know and love on a close personal basis. The very thought of being able to share Thanksgiving or Christmas together as a family will be more profoundly appreciated going forward than it ever has been in the past.
Worshiping together without concern of infecting others or being infected by them and enjoying the simple pleasure of having an in-depth conversation and really connecting at the heart level, unimpeded by “social distancing” or “face coverings,” will be cherished like never before.
Second, perhaps we have all come to the place in our nation’s ongoing experiment in covenantal democracy to recognize just how fragile it really is. The idea that everything that we have held close and dear and valued so much could be literally broken apart in a matter of weeks or months is not longer some Orwellian novel, but a very real fact of life that we all recognize could become a national experience in literally “a blink of an eye” in terms of our national timeline.
Third, I’ve also discovered in the midst of all the things that we could not do, we found ways to continue to purse the things that we really value such as praying together, sharing together, serving together and growing together using technology and other forms of communication that heretofore had never really been that important to the life of most believers. In some sense, many of us have learned to identify with churches of nations that have great restrictions on their exercise of their freedom of religion simply because we had to battle through limitations never before imposed upon us. This truly will change how we see our freedoms going forward.
Finally, I want to mention how I’m going into the New Year. By every account, even though there are some predictions of extended gloom and doom on the pandemic side of things and also some uncertainty with regards to our national values and relationships, I believe it’s time that we see the New Year through a more optimistic lens.
Especially for those of us who know the assurance of the sovereignty of God and His love for us, we need to recognize that throughout scripture every time of challenge, testing or even isolation was always finite. At some point, “in the fullness of time” God changes things and sets captives free, delivers the faithful from oppression, pulls the warriors out of apparent defeat and sends His Son to deliver us from the most deadly of all pandemics, our sin nature.
It’s time for us as believers to lift up our head and recognize that our salvation is drawing near. We should move into the New Year with expectation and hope and do everything possible to share with others that we are not bound by past struggles, but we are free to believe for God’s deliverance and breakthrough in every area of our lives, from our personal well-being, to our family and dearest friends, our fellow believers and certainly the neighbors and other folks that we have learned to care about in our lives. It is not longer fear, but freedom that we have in our sights!