“I’m confident America will figure this out and fix it.”
So said my mother’s yoga partner two months ago when COVID-19 was beginning to take over all our lives. Now I wonder if this woman has changed her tune.
A lot has happened since she uttered those confident words. The virus has infected many, killing tens of thousands of Americans. The economy has gone into gridlock, schools are closed, and many states still enforce “stay at home” policies to mitigate the spread. No one, including our health and political officials, has a clear plan—or even knows if autumn will bring another wave of death.
If one jumps on social media, though, there’s still plenty of levity and optimism. Many appear to believe there’s already a light at the end of the tunnel. Like the necessary evils of studying for a pre-calculus final or getting your wisdom teeth removed, this COVID-19 episode is just another painful valley to be endured, with an eventual exit.
Which is it, then: painful experience or permanent reality?
Is This a Footrace?
Thousands of years ago, the prophet Jeremiah was a front-row spectator to the destruction of Judah and his people’s captivity to Babylon. Prior to this brutal exile, he was largely ignored and even abused by his hearers. Bringing his grievances to God, he received an interesting reply: “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).
What if our present battle with COVID-19 is just the footrace? Perhaps our competition with horses is yet to come. Some people are already starting to crack. Those stuck at home with small kids and no opportunity to work are biding their time. Others are frustrated with the “social distancing” that has removed them from their gyms, churches, book groups, and routines.
What if our present battle with COVID-19 is just the footrace? Perhaps our competition with horses is yet to come.
Almost anyone can endure these things for a while, but if schools don’t open this fall, it’s possible the initial honeymoon with COVID-19 will start to feel more like a hostage situation. Fatigue with such circumstances will eventually take a toll on the human spirit. We were hardwired to connect and thrive in broader community. Yes, many have enjoyed extra time with their loved ones. For others, though, this domestic “utopia” is more like a chaotic pirate ship.
One could argue there hasn’t been a global threat or experience like this since World War II. Many recessions, natural disasters, and epidemics over the years—not to mention local tragedies—have created a lot of pain. Calamities like 9/11 are felt and lamented around the world, though not as universally experienced as this pandemic. It’s rare the whole world can sit under the influence of a ubiquitous curriculum and participate in the same shared learning experience.
Boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials in this country have never faced a threat so pervasive and strange as this one. Even the economic downturn in 2009 pales in comparison in terms of the overall disruption. Those who endured the Great Depression and World War II have lived through more dire times. They could instruct us, but they’re mostly gone now. And for those who remain from that generation, COVID-19 has rendered them the most vulnerable, so we’re keeping our distance.
This will be a weary race for those expecting a definite finish line.
It’s likely that great disappointment and missed opportunity awaits those who still believe this crisis is just something to be figured out and fixed. But much of the scientific community has already concluded this is a marathon, not a sprint. This will be a weary race for those expecting a definite finish line.
Perhaps, however, we can derive great benefits if we endure—even embrace—this current crucible as a dress rehearsal rather than a mere season of suffering. Consider three things.
First, we’ve been given the opportunity to live with scarcity. We can look into our cupboards and refrigerators with greater scrutiny and better steward our food. Grocery runs entail risk, so they’re happening less frequently. We’re learning to do more with less. This is hardly a bad thing. Indeed, if tougher economic times are around the corner, it would be to our benefit to develop muscle memory on how to thrive through restraint.
Perhaps we can derive great benefits by embracing this crisis as a dress rehearsal.
Second, and related, Jesus warns us to not live like the rich fool, who devoted his heart and attention to “building bigger barns” to create storage for his excess (Luke 12:13–21). This pandemic has infiltrated the American barns of our retirement and our preparation for the future. Not everyone has the privilege or luxury of having a retirement plan, but like the “moth, rust, and robber” that Jesus describes in Matthew 6, COVID-19 has threatened many of our treasures for the future. This financial menace, if just a footrace, should remind us that none of our earthly treasure is ours in the first place. The belongings in our barns are his; they always have been. Perhaps we will allow this dress rehearsal to drive us toward relying more on Christ, as well as outpouring generous love toward those struggling with far less.
Third, Christians are learning how to connect, worship, and commune through new and creative measures. The American church has not experienced outright persecution, but perhaps those days are coming. It’s a wonderful dress rehearsal for the church to learn how to execute our mission through new adversity, barriers, and restraints. We’re having to adapt how we minister to the homeless, the poor, and the vulnerable. Discovering new ways to be the body of Christ can only be advantageous if we take time to develop new skills and methods to connect with our faith family.
Our economy may rebound in ways that stock the shelves of our barns with a fresh abundance. But it might not. We’re able to learn to reexamine our treasure, and to ask ourselves whom we ultimately trust.
Trials and Sanctification
This present footrace might be the crucible of sanctification Christ’s body needs to deepen and broaden its mission. The strain of footraces and our willingness to faithfully stay the course will give us the grit and resolve to run with the horses when that day comes.
Thankfully we have the beautiful example of our Lord Jesus, who already ran his race with endurance (Heb. 12:1–2).