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The Severe Mercy of a Stay-at-Home Order

Like many other jurisdictions, the Kansas City Metro is about one week into a 30-day stay-at-home order in an effort to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 spread. Like many others doing their best to obey the order, I’ve been “stuck” at home and trying to overcome my technological incompetence to maintain my meetings, teach my students, and otherwise conduct some semblance of business as usual.

A friend texted me yesterday to ask how I was holding up in light of my recent episodes of anxiety and the like. My answer was somewhat surprising even to me. As an introvert, I suppose I am able to take the “don’t go anywhere” mandate better than a lot of others can. But as I contemplate what I’ve needed to do in order to subdue the anxiety within me, I realize it has little to do with not worrying about the virus or its effect.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m appropriately concerned about that. We sent our daughter back to college in Pennsylvania, and while I think it was the right decision, or else we wouldn’t have made it, I pray for her safety and protection. And like all other reasonable people, I’m concerned about the effect on others, both physically and economically, given the uncertainty of how long this will go on.

But my anxiety has little to do with specific things I’m “worrying” about. It is more the result of a busy ministry schedule. I’ve watched the domino effect of my speaking engagements canceling, and with it more and more white space forming in my calendar. I have a day job, so unlike so many others whose livelihoods largely or entirely depend on outside work and travel, I am not overly concerned about paying the bills (at least not yet). Instead, I’m realizing that what I was struggling to figure out how to do—namely, slow down—the Lord through his kind providence has done for me. He has in effect made me to lie down by still waters.

To be clear, I’m not saying the novel coronavirus is a good thing. It’s a tragedy unfolding before us. But in the evil, there can be found good. For me, it’s more margin than I was able (or willing?) to create for myself. I know a lot of pastors are working harder than ever right now, trying to adapt on the fly to this strange new ministry season.

I polled the pastors in my coaching cohort this week about how the pace of work has been affected for them, and almost all of them said they are working longer hours now. The cancelation of services and in-person ministry obligations has not provided for them significant downtime at all. Perhaps that will change as we develop new rhythms over time and acclimate to the weirdness, “get the hang of it” so to speak. For others, however, they may have more time on their hands. And that can be a good thing.

I heard from some of the leaders at my church recently saying that they’ve had more conversations with church folks over the last couple of weeks than normal and what a joy that has been. The need to innovate new means of connection has provided a real sense of community otherwise unexplored. That’s a gift.

And if you are like me, one prone to busy-ness and hurry-sickness, it might be a grace to be told to be still. With nearly all of my public ministry endeavors on hold, I have a lot more time to spend with my family, to read more books, to write more, to go on walks, to just be.

If you’re struggling with all the boredom of extra time and tempted to feel un-used, think instead of embracing your smallness. Embrace the stillness. Don’t just do something; sit there. It doesn’t mean that what’s going on outside is of no concern, or that we have no obligation to figure out how to serve and care for those who are suffering in so many ways. But it could be God’s severe mercy to you even in this season to sabbath from being a “human doing.” That’s how I’m trying to look at it, anyways.

I’m talking with my wife about how to use both of our gifts in different ways right now to love our neighbors. But we’re also just trying to enjoy a plan we hadn’t anticipated or otherwise planned for. And I’m trying to do my best to accept this disciplinary order as a gift. What the virus means for evil, perhaps the Lord means for our good. If anything, no matter how you’ve been affected by this shut-down, even if significantly, it can strengthen your faith and bring you into a closer reliance upon the One who never changes, never leaves, and never forsakes.

“Be still, and know that I am God . . .”
— Psalm 46:10a

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