At first, it did seem strange. The empty shelves at Costco . . . then Target . . . then Walmart. The eerily empty freeways. The long lines around Turner’s Outdoorsman shops. Closed schools and darkened Starbucks. Answering emails about various chapters in John’s Revelation. Because of COVID-19, a virus few had heard of at Christmas, most of us didn’t celebrate Easter the way we usually do. The world has changed, and nothing seems quite normal.
At first, it did seem strange. The families walking together around the block. The neighbors checking in on the elderly couple across the street. Kids on bicycles, six feet apart, riding nowhere in particular. A 20-something dropping off groceries for an elderly woman as if he were playing a benevolent game of Doorbell Ditch. Because of COVID-19, a virus few had heard of a few months ago, many of us are seeing communities act like they did generations ago. The world has changed, and nothing seems quite normal.
Or maybe our idea of “normal” isn’t normal.
Oddity of ‘Crazy Busy’
It’s no secret Americans live at a frenetic pace. Almost 40 percent of Americans work 50-plus hours per week. Pastors spend nearly three to four nights a week away from home. Students are involved in more extracurricular activities than ever before and being “so busy” has become our favorite humblebrag. Ideally, the evangelical church should counter these unfortunate cultural norms. Sometimes we do. But sometimes we are as frenetic as the rest of the world is. In a desire to remain “relevant” (read: “competitive”), we add our own activities, expectations, and demands, as if the answer to secular busyness is simply gospel-centered busyness.
COVID-19 is causing many serious and unfortunate effects on our society. But shattering our illusion that “busy” and “big” are the same as “fruitful” and “effective” certainly isn’t one of them.
For example, I know two couples whose wedding plans have been jeopardized as a result of “social distancing.” But what a joy to see their mutual growth as they grapple with the reality that a $60 wedding (the cost of a marriage license in Orange County) in someone’s backyard is just as legitimate—and far less stressful—than a $30,000 one (the average cost of a wedding in America). Multiply that experience by the hundreds of ways we’ve complicated life because we can—without stopping to ask if we should. Now we don’t have the option to ask if we should. Because of COVID-19, we simply can’t. And maybe that’s a grace.
Simpler = More Normal
Yet, this restriction has brought unanticipated freedom in other ways. Maybe with less to do, we’ll learn to get along with less. Maybe Sunday mornings will become more special? Maybe we’ll realize that being an effective Christian requires fewer programs, prepackaged curricula, or high-production-value videos. And it requires more spontaneous, unscheduled time. Time to buy groceries, to help the vulnerable, to wander around our neighborhoods together, to be still and know God (Ps. 46:10).
To be clear, classes and programs aren’t inherently wrong. The danger is that they can become easy substitutes for the actual work of simply being a Christian. In a way, being a Christian as opposed to merely doing Christian things goes against the grain of our highly scheduled, efficiency-focused, results-oriented culture. Maybe it takes a global pandemic to make us realize we’ve made the Christian life more busy than it needs to be.
Maybe it takes a global pandemic to make us realize we’ve made the Christian life more busy than it needs to be.
By God’s grace, life may return to “normal.” But by God’s grace, maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll remain a bit “abnormal.”
Maybe we’ll make better use of the Lord’s Day to free up the other days for the Lord’s work. In other words, instead of attending another midweek Bible study that takes us away from our neighbors and neighborhood, maybe we could make better use of our Sunday school hour or the other discipleship offerings at our churches on Sunday morning. Maybe we’ll do less sports for our kids and more sports with our kids. Maybe we’ll still walk across the street to check in on that elderly couple that’s still alone, once the virus has past.
Jesus didn’t teach that the world would know we’re his disciples because of our busy, frenzied, over-scheduled lives. He said the world would know we’re his disciples by our mutual love (John 13:35).