“Social distancing” is a term used by epidemiologists to refer to a conscious community effort to reduce contact between people in order to slow the transmission and reduce the impact of disease. In the face of the current global pandemic, it’s a necessary short-term measure intended to protect and preserve humanity, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
It’s necessary, but it’s not easy. Humans were made for physical presence, so it’s natural to feel disordered when this presence is taken from us. The thought of social distancing brings a sense of loss—we worry we’ll lose spiritual vitality, stabilizing routines, interpersonal relationships. It’s scary.
I understand this fear. I’ve spent the last five years battling chronic medical conditions that have kept me home living a semi-quarantined life for extended periods of time. The isolation would be unbearable were it not for the fact that I’ve gotten creative about how to stay connected to God and others, especially those in my church.
Here are three ways I’ve pursued engagement with others. They may help you stay connected during a temporary time of social distancing. Whether you’re isolated because you’re high-risk or because you’re protecting those at risk, don’t allow social distancing to be an excuse to distance yourself from humanity.
1. Cultivate Your Devotional Life
Though I’m often alone, I don’t feel lonely because of Jesus’s indwelling presence through his Spirit. My time in his Word and prayer has become the richest part of my day. As the world is forced to take a collective pause, Christians have a unique opportunity to fill that space with a deeper sense of God’s presence.
Don’t allow social distancing to be an excuse to distance yourself from humanity.
We know that God is near to all who call on him (Ps. 145:18), that he promises never to leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and that nothing (not even coronavirus) can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39). So why not lean in to your time alone, rather than run from it?
Take this time to treasure God’s presence through Bible reading, meditative prayer, and singing. In the midst of the corona-chaos, turn off your TV and silence your phone to spend time gazing on the beauty of the Lord (Ps. 27:4).
If you struggle to stay focused because of fears or other people’s needs, simply write them down and come back to them when you’re finished. If you are dealing with fears, ask God to reveal what’s causing your fear and to help you trust him with it.
If you have a house full of kids do family devotions and worship together. If you’re single, try practicing a half-day of reading, singing, and praying. Listen to an edifying podcast, read a devotional book, or play a favorite worship song and meditate on the lyrics.
However it looks, ask the Lord to meet and minister to you in this space. He can transform an empty home into a glorious refuge. He’s done it for me time and time again.
2. Pray for and with Others
Prayer is one of my favorite ways to stay connected during periods of isolation because it creates intimacy—both with God and also with those you’re praying for. As you pray you become moved by people’s needs and invested in their stories. Their burdens become yours (Gal. 6:2) as you bring their needs before the Father.
When we pray alongside others, it creates connections between us. After you pray for someone, send a text, email, or note sharing the specific things and Scriptures you’re praying for them. You can also call or FaceTime another believer to pray together on a weekly basis or start a group thread with close friends sharing prayer requests and updates throughout the week. I’m in several group-prayer feeds that give me a real sense of connection and purpose as we pray for one another’s needs.
Through periods of isolation I’ve learned that prayer is some of the greatest work I’ll ever do.
It also connects us to one another and what’s happening in the world when we pray together for things outside of our personal concerns. Praying for church leaders, mission workers, the worldwide church, government leaders, and the spread of the gospel in our communities, unites us even when we are physically distant. Through periods of isolation I’ve learned that prayer is some of the greatest work I’ll ever do (cf. Col. 4:12–13).
3. Use Technology for Good
Phone calls and video calls aren’t a long-term substitute for physical presence, but they can be a lifeline in the midst of isolation. On days I’m bedridden, FaceTime is my way to connect with family, nieces and nephews, friends, people I’ve discipled or am currently discipling, and ministry partners. A 10-minute chat reminds me there’s life outside these four walls, and I’m still part of that life. It’s humanizing.
What might this look like for you? Use video chat for your weekly discipleship or small-group meetings. Check in with your family or old friends if it’s been a while. Contact ministry partners or global workers to get an update and pray for them. If they’re able, FaceTime or call your grandparents or elderly individuals in your church or community to see how they’re doing. Let them know they’re not forgotten.
Be aware of people who will feel the isolation of social distancing more acutely, like singles, those who live alone, older adults, or believers with mental illness. If you don’t know where to start, contact your church office or pastors to find out who needs spiritual and relational care, and make it a point to call them. You could even commit to checking in every week during this crisis.
Phone calls and video calls aren’t a long-term substitute for physical presence, but they can be a lifeline in the midst of isolation.
You don’t need anything profound to say, just ask them how they’re doing, exchange stories and updates from your lives, see if they have any prayer requests, and tell them you love them. The point is human connection, not working through an agenda.
Opportunity for Growth
These are just a couple ways I’ve stayed actively engaged in life despite extraordinary limitations. I encourage you to pick one thing from the list and implement it. Maybe you want to tweak your morning routine to spend more focused time in God’s Word or connect with an isolated individual via FaceTime to both tell them you love them and pray with them.
Whatever it is, do it. Don’t spend the next eight weeks fixated on your isolation, but on your opportunity to grow in Christlikeness, compassion, and perspective as you live for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors.