The Human Impact: Part 1
My stay-at-home living/working arrangement has been in place for about four weeks now. In this time, much has changed outside of me working from home. My wife and children have rarely seen their Bible study friends and playmates outside of video calls. We venture out beyond our neighborhood for essentials only, almost without exception (I justified my annual Shamrock Shake as essential). My family and I go outside and interact with our neighbors almost daily, many of whom we had never met before. Easter has come and gone with seeing loved ones on the other side of a multi-tiled screen on our computers. My suspicion is that you have experienced many of these things in varying degrees as well. But they are just the things on the surface.
Let us consider the reality of this situation a layer deeper. It is a foregone conclusion, with most of us at home, that the economy is suffering significantly. Depending on the duration of the virus, there are economists projecting up to one-third of the United States’ economy being shut down. Service industries, such as hotels and restaurants, many of whom were thriving and expanding in 2019 within a growing economy, are now struggling to stay solvent. For example, Unite Here, a service industry union representing 307,000 hotel and restaurant workers nationwide, is stating that 98% are out of work.1 This is saying nothing of all of the construction workers, electricians, truckers, and other industries that were expanding as a part of the previous economic growth.
Our church family touches many of those industries. The economic shift is affecting us on a deeply personal level. The resounding feeling in many of the conversations I have had is fear of (or from) layoffs, anger at God, and anger at various governments, among a host of other related thoughts and feelings. Not only have livelihoods been threatened, but many of our skills have been rendered mute, at least temporarily. This has resulted in no shortage of conversation surrounding projecting the future and assessing how it is that we recover from this both personally and vocationally.
As a counselor, what has been a growing concern of mine in the midst of this is the human impact; specifically, the growing aimlessness that some are beginning to exhibit as they feel out of place; the fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable, the concern from the husband or wife whose spouse is now out of work and beginning to exhibit signs of depression, and the looming sense that things may never be the same again. The hard truth is…things may never be the same again. And even if there is some return to what once was, the looming fear will be of something like this occurring again.
There is much human impact for us to consider in light of our faith in Christ. To that, if you or a loved one have been rocked by sudden unemployment or radical life change, I would love for you to consider some things with me.
First, God is not caught unaware of this pandemic or your personal situation. Consider the declaration of God himself in Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NIV):
“Am I only a God nearby,declares the Lord,“and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret placesso that I cannot see them?”declares the Lord.“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”declares the Lord.”
This is a really important statement by God, and I ask that you’d briefly consider it again. God is saying: “I am near and far. There are no secrets from me. I fill the heavens and the earth.” God is making it crystal clear that he is involved and aware.
This means, for the Christian, we need to take an objective step back and consider the implications of our faith. We do not have the luxury of phoning-in a relationship with God in this pandemic season. We do not have the luxury of saying we believe something and then living like we do not. What this does is negatively affect our spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. It creates “cognitive dissonance,” the internal state of having inconsistent attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs to the decisions we make. It is a massive internal war between what we think/believe and our actions. This naturally causes breakdown in life. It naturally breeds thoughts and feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
Friends, the war you are battling is actually starting from within you. It is a war between your beliefs and your actions. And if you choose to live as if God is real, but aloof, or not actively involved in your particular circumstances, you put yourself on the wrong side of this internal war. It also explains why, as a Christian, you feel the way that you do inside.
This brings me to my second thought. If we want to think and feel correctly again, we must start with our theology. We must start with a willingness to believe Isaiah 40:31, which states: “…but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
To have hope in the Lord is to have our strength, spiritually and physically, renewed. It is to run with endurance, and not grow weary and faint. This has a number of practical realities we must consider.
To have hope in the Lord is to have the correct perspective, meaning, one confidently and reverently accepts that God has preordained this event in your life as a part of something good, even if you do not understand it all right now (Romans 8:28-30). You must objectively choose to believe that God is with you in the midst of this, and further choose to live like this is your reality. It is!
To have hope in the Lord is to not surrender to the losses of our circumstance(s) but capitalize on or create opportunity within them. For example, we can follow the example of Paul, who—while in prison—welcomed all who came into his home-imprisonment for two years and shared the gospel with them. Or in Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas took the opportunity to personally minister the gospel to their jailer when he was at the point of suicide, despite the fact that his death could have resulted in their freedom.
I would also speak from personal experience. I have a good relationship with my wife and two kiddos. But since I have been home, my relationship with my youngest, our two-year-old son, has flourished. He went from wanting Mommy all the time, to wanting Daddy, simply because I’m here. It would be easy for me to redirect him back to my wife. Yet, instead, I am choosing to take the opportunity, and lean in to growing my bond with him.
Why share this? Because honestly, sometimes it’s tough, if not even a little inconvenient. I could leave all the parenting to my wife, as if I was still in my office at the church. I routinely have back-to-back counseling appointments and meetings where I could make no space in between and just move through them as I would have before. Some of you working from home know exactly what I am referring to. You could easily institute this rhythm as a part of your new normal. But instead, I am choosing to take the opportunity to invest in my two-year-old son. I am choosing to take the opportunity to let him play with his toys at my feet and talk to me as I write this very paragraph. I am choosing to take the opportunity to eat (fake) plastic green grapes from his kitchen and capitalize on this unorthodox time rather than treat him like a distraction. Friends, take these God-given opportunities. Do not miss them!
To have hope in the Lord, God is calling us all to embrace change. As I alluded to earlier, the world may not be the same again. Your career, as it stood, may be gone for the foreseeable future, if not for good. Your or your loved ones’ industry may be fundamentally changed. Do not fight the change; embrace it. Roll with the tide of culture, and not against it, in this case.
I think of paper companies. Paper was once a thriving industry. Everyone wanted it and everyone needed it. Yet, today, there is an ever-increasing push to be digital. Everything from medical records to cash has moved away from paper to digital. Further, Jesus himself was a change agent. He fulfilled the Law. He fundamentally changed the culture of not just religion, but the scope of the world! Change is not bad, with the right perspective. If your industry is changing, now is the time to roll with what you did and pursue what you can do. Change is here. Embrace it early and pursue it hard.
I recognize this is not an easy read. But these are not easy times. And the human impact that COVID-19 has had on Christianity, if not the world, needs to be explored through the lens of the gospel. Thus, in the blogs ahead, we will explore a number of issues that are very real to our spiritual, emotional, and mental health, but help us navigate those waters in a practical way.
|↑1||COVID-19: Economic impact, human solutions: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/10/covid-19-economic-impact-human-solutions/.|