It was 7pm on a Monday night 5 months ago and my coworker had just finished her shift. She said she needed to leave promptly so that she could hear an important announcement on the car radio. The rest of us were huddled around the television awaiting the all important Prime Minister’s address. This was the first day of lockdown. None of us knew what to expect or what was happening, but all of us were afraid.
There are people who will try to convince you they were never afraid during this pandemic, but I don’t believe any of them for one minute. Fear has been the natural response throughout this very strange and difficult time. We have several groups of people when it comes to fear. We have those who have been absolutely terrified about getting the virus or about infecting a loved one with the virus. We have those who have been absolutely afraid of their economic uncertainty and how they will pay their rent and bills. There have been extroverts like myself who have been fearful of life never getting back to normal and never being able to give a friend a hug or a handshake again. Others have been afraid that life will not resume normality and that they may be stuck in their deadend jobs, working permanently from home, or never being able to visit children and grandchildren who live in other countries. Lastly, there are the group branded “conspiracy theorists.” These individuals claim that they are not afraid at all, but perhaps are the most fearful of all. These select few are fearful that the government wants to control us, microchip us and force mandatory vaccines on us.
Life has resumed some form of normalcy as I write this. I am able to travel (albeit not as much as I wished and still within my own country, but at least day trips are now available). Routine medical and dental exams have resumed. Even some leisure activities such as eating out and going to the cinema are an option. From the outside, everything looks more or less as it did before except now we are all two meters apart and wearing face masks. Yet, I believe there is still a spirit of fear which permeates much of what we do in a day. There are still individuals who are paranoid of the virus as the numbers have started creeping up again. There are those fearful of sending their children back to school (and some parents who have chosen not to). There are still those who are convinced the government wants to microchip us and that the Mark of the Beast is at hand, and I think if we are completely honest, nearly all of us are fearful that a second wave will be approaching. I haven’t watched the news for months now, but I still hear the whispers from my friends and the posts on social media. It really seems only a matter of time.
I was very blessed to have worked throughout the entire pandemic. I say blessed because it is humbling to me how many of my same age peers faced economic uncertainties since they did not have this privilege. Work took my mind off things, gave me something to do, and helped to have some form of interaction with other humans. Yet, work was also very stressful. Being on the frontlines daily took a huge toll on my physical and mental health. Stress was high, my brain could never switch off, and policies and procedures were amended several times over several weeks which heightened the fear of never knowing exactly what was expected. Due to the stress I experienced from the pandemic and the massive plummet my mood took, I decided to pursue another venue: getting back into full time ministry. Something which has been on my heart throughout my life, but now seemed like the time to do it. Everything went well. I passed my interviews and the church genuinely seemed to like me, but once again the natural human emotion of fear crept in. Fear of not being enough, fear of what others have said or what I have been led to believe about myself in the past, fear of failure, and once again fear of COVID. Exactly how DOES one minister completely online? In some ways I feel I will be entering the ministry more prepared because I know that these things can happen (something no seminary ever trained or talked about before), yet on the other hand, I feel ill-prepared. There is fear about how long this will last and exactly how many sermons one can preach over Zoom before the whole congregation goes bug eyed and walks away from the screen.
In this time of fear, God’s people are called to engage in faith. This is not an easy thing to do. How do we have faith when we don’t know what the future will bring? As a late 20 something single millennial I do have questions. Is it still possible to buy a house now that the economy has plummeted? Will there still be a way for me to meet a young man organically? Will I ever get my 20 something life back with all the excitement I once had? And how can I get to know a church community when the next year or so will be completely online? What does pastoral care even look like then?
In Matthew 6:34 Jesus writes “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own.” This verse has never been truer than in COVID. The truth is I don’t know what tomorrow brings. For all I know we could be locked down tomorrow. For all I know I could get COVID tomorrow. For all I know, life could drastically change tomorrow, or it might not. For all I know, we may get to Phase 4 tomorrow and the masks come flying off. It has been a real challenge for me in this season to learn to trust God, but that’s what I’m called to do. I must accept that there is so much I don’t have control over at the moment. What I do have control over is doing my part to continue to follow government guidelines and to be kind to others. I have been learning so much about acceptance in fact that it has truly made me a happier person. When I look back even over the last few difficult months, I see how God has been present and blessed me. I see how many of the plans which I had hoped for in my life (which were hampered due to COVID) have now been replaced by something even better for me which I would never have expected. I can only be grateful and in awe of this.
I was listening to a sermon the other day about when the Apostle Paul wrote “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12). We may look at this and say “wow, good for you, Paul. So pious, but you have no idea what I’m going through.” Well, actually there’s a good chance he did. He was in prison and about to lose his life. Let me paraphrase this in relation to what we’re going through:
“I know what it is to be in lockdown and I know what it is to be in normalcy. I know what it is to be in quarantine and I know what it is to be able to go to church physically every Sunday. I know what it is to be furloughed and I know what it is to be at work. I know what it is to be healthy and I know what it is to be sick. I know what it is to go on holiday and I know what it is to shelter in place. I am CONTENT in each and every situation.”
Contentment is not happiness. I’m sure no one is happy with all the rules and regulations, however, we can be content in terms of accepting it and still making the most of it. We can ask God to redeem and use this time so that we don’t squander it. We have the ability to make the most out of another lockdown by treating it like a retreat. We don’t have to continue in a negative vein about how 2020 was the worst year of our lives brought to us by the letters W T F, instead we can look at the glimpses of grace and the sparks of God’s love which have been given to us. It’s a tall order, but as God’s people, it’s possible for us because we approach life with an attitude of plenty rather than scarcity.
And me? I still hope to settle down in my new church, with a decent enough flat. I hope to get myself a pet to come home to, and I hope that eventually I will be able to meet my congregation in person and not on the screen. But even if none of that happens, I still believe that I can be content in my circumstances and say with all honesty and confidence “it is well with my soul.”