The Human Impact: Part 3
In the Human Impact series to this point, we have unpacked the “new normal” God has thrust the world into, including what our initial response should be (available here). We also examined the economic significance relating to changes that may be required of us in the days ahead (available here). Today, I’d like to examine matters from a different perspective entirely and speak to two relevant audiences. It is likely all of us will land in one of these categories: the directly affected or those impacted.
The directly affected are those who have been laid off, downsized, endured change, and/or had their work hours reduced. They are the working moms and dads who are now working from home and attempting to accomplish their work and their kids’ online education. They are college students who went from living as adults on their own in dorms or campus housing to being back at home with their parents (and likely feeling less independent). They are those in previously thriving industries now wondering if they have a job to return to.
The impacted are those who are watching their friend(s) and loved one(s) struggle. They see the reduced hours, the layoffs, the questioning, the isolation-induced sadness, and related struggles, but are at a loss for what to say or do in an effort to effectively serve those they care about.
As a significant note – there are other groups. Obviously, there are those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. This is a directly affected group that rightly warrants a submission all on their own. I have, with genuine respect to this group, refrained from speaking on this here to give them a full treatment in the future. There are also those who have been almost entirely unaffected by this. Some God had already prepared for change and this was the prompt that they needed to get proactive. Others needed a break; they pushed too hard for too long and stay-at-home orders have provided a needed slow down. I have personally interacted with individuals in each of these categories and more. For the purpose of this article though, I want to narrow the focus to those affected or impacted in a negative sense.
“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.” (Psalm 71:20 ESV)
King David penned the words of this psalm later in his life. He draws readers’ attention to truths evident to someone who has lived through great adversity over a lengthy period of time. In doing so, David highlights realities that modern Christians must recognize as effective for this moment. As the writer states with tremendous transparency, we too must see that the troubles and calamities of our lives have not escaped God’s notice. We must further recognize that God has an intimate involvement in not just the joys of life, but the despairs and troubles as well. David goes so far as to say that God both causes and relieves them.
Recognizing this, it prompts a number of fascinating questions for consideration. I will highlight one before transitioning to a few recommendations.
The question is this: if God appeared to you in person, as he did to “doubting” Thomas (John 20:24-29), and explained to you that he allowed the global circumstances of COVID-19 to occur with you and your circumstances in mind, how would it change your response?
Please hear me: I recognize the difficulty of losing a career job you love. I sympathize with dramatic changes to industry that may never recover. I empathize with the fact that the world as you and I know it is not going to be the way that it was before and that this may involve tremendous sacrifice(s). I’m not remotely stating that the implications of what I am writing are easy. What I am advocating for is the rubber of our faith meeting the road of life. This is the call to believers in Jesus echoed throughout Scripture. The Christian is called to live a faith-filled and faith-propelled life. God does not give us the option of stagnancy; He calls us to endure, press on, and hold fast. This should cause us to recall verses such as Psalm 119:71:
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
Practically, this learning necessitates perspective change and practical change. With regard to perspective, one does not get the option of choosing to live as though Scripture is optional or subjective. We must accept that COVID-19 has changed our world. We must accept that God planned uncertainty for this moment. And we must accept that God is calling us to faithfully push forward both spiritually and practically.
Practically then, you may have to recognize that you may have to choose a new vocation. You may have to further recognize that the life of luxuries you enjoyed before will not be afforded to you in the same way that it previously was. It could be that you will have to work two part-time jobs to make equivalent income. The point being is that while we may feel down and depressed, which we are certainly entitled to (God does not stifle our emotions and, in fact, calls us to lament them to him), we must still proactively pursue honoring God primarily and meeting our stewarded responsibilities secondarily. This practically means you stop lamenting things lost, and start acting on the question: “what can I do?”
In the last six weeks, I’ve spoken to many individuals who have been concerned about their loved ones or friends. They have asked with some regularity, “is ‘this’ response normal?” I have often responded that there is nothing normal about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But from there, I go on to share that there are some common human responses that God has built into us and proceed to ask them if their loved one is exhibiting some of the signs from within the questions below. I commend these same questions to you now…
If they are experiencing any of the above, it is likely that they are enduring a form of grief. When we lose something, it is not uncommon for intense emotions of sorrow and pain to be felt. In fact, we should probably expect it. Too often we associate grief with only death. In reality, we grieve losses all the time. An employment shift like the ones we have been discussing is no exception. So, what would God have us do? We, the impacted, should consider Romans 15:1-2:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
It would be easy to read a verse like this and wonder how to actually accomplish that. Below are my recommendations to help those you care about move from grief to action.
1. Give space
While it could be said that five or six weeks is plenty, people process grief and loss at different speeds. Give your friend or loved one the opportunity to work things through in their own mind. Allow some time for reality to settle in. Once some degree of acknowledgement is found, people are prone to begin to motivate themselves once again.
2. Create a team environment
It is likely that the person you are concerned about is feeling isolated. While you don’t want to work ahead of them and begin to do things for them, you can create an environment where they sense from you that “we will get through this together.” In doing this, you affirm the strength of your relationship and common commitment to prayerfully discerning what the next steps are for them, your relationship, or your family. The key component is the sense of camaraderie that eliminates isolation.
3. Affirm, Encourage, and Motivate
When individuals suffer cuts or losses of vocation, it may result in something of an identity crisis. They doubt their capabilities, value, and ability to accomplish tasks. Spiritually, they are believing the lies of the enemy. Mentally, they are causing the release of excess neurotransmitters in the brain that will result in people physically feeling poor. Negative self-talk results in emotions of negativity (sadness, depression, etc.) and physically feeling poorly (lethargy, stomach aches, headaches, hypertension, etc.). As a result, encourage, affirm, and motivate your friend or loved one appropriate to their personality type. Remind them of the qualities God created them with, affirm their previous work ethic, and motivate them to pursue new opportunities and think outside the box about the future. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
Additionally, consistently share with them that their value comes from the Holy Spirit in them, and not the work that they do. Remind them of the gospel; our salvation is instigated by God, and not contingent on our work. This is too easily forgotten or neglected. A gospel framework can change even the sourest of moods if we pursue the correct perspective about our circumstances.
Finally, offer accountability and support. Ask them how it is that you can come alongside them, hold them to their goals as they pursue the future, and even assist them should that be helpful.
4. Ask for help if needed
As I’ve shared many times over the last few weeks, when in doubt, ask for help. No one need weather this storm alone. At each campus, there are pastors and staff who love you, care for your well-being, and will do what we can to assist you. Additionally, I (Pastor Stephen) have partnered with a number of tremendous counselors in our community who can assist you or your loved one in the process of grieving and transitioning into a new phase of life. All you have to do is ask.
If you are hesitant to reach out to anyone directly, click on the following link, fill out the counseling intake, and I will personally respond to you in an effort to point you in the right direction: www.bethelweb.org/counseling. It is entirely confidential. All it does is give me the best means by which I and your church family can partner with you.
Friends, while we are certainly hopeful for an easing of restrictions in the near future, the impact of this on our personhood is likely not to end soon. And if you find yourself in one of these categories, I cannot encourage you enough to consider the implications of this post and prayerfully consider what changes or support may be necessary or required in your life. Remember, you are loved. And it is in love that we continue to tackle hard subjects such as these.