Love in a Time of COVID-19: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Health officials are giving us step-by-step instructions on hand-washing, stocking our pantries and medicine cabinets, and even a meter-stick guide to social interaction. Experts are doing a great job explaining how social distancing can flatten the curve and be one of the most altruistic actions we can take right now as a nation. But when it comes to caring for our hearts and the hearts of those around us in the midst of these most unusual days, I hope these few reminders will be a help:


Stock-pile Peace

God has promised us peace if we ask Him. He doesn’t promise life without sickness, brokenness or frustration, but he readily makes His peace available to us. He invites us to come and get it freely. It’s never out of stock and it’s never too costly.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

Take your thoughts captive (2 Cor. 2:5). Fix your thoughts on Jesus (Heb. 3:1). Take every anxious thought to Jesus through prayer and petition. Over and over again, we are given very active directives on how to war against anxiety. It starts and ends with Jesus. We pray. We fix our thoughts on Him. We worship Him as the One who is better than anything else, who is secure and firm even when everything else is rocking.

Pass the Peace

If you know and understand something of the comfort of God, this peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7), then you have a resource more precious than an N-95 respirator. Just like on the airplane when they tell you to secure your mask first before trying to help another person, if you are breathing in the peace of Christ, you are free to be a conduit of life-saving peace to the anxious and desperate around you. That desperation may not be anxiety about the virus itself, it might be anxiety about finances, the safety of loved ones, the dreams or plans put on hold or broken. Whatever it is, if you know the peace-giver, you can pass the peace. He is the One who gives us hope even amidst devastation of all sorts.


“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. “ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thes. 5: 11)
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn the idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thes. 5:14)

We have seen clear evidence of how a virus can spread exponentially. Guess what? You know what else can be a contagion? Hope. Peace amidst insecurity. Spread it. Infect everyone you know with the hope that Christ is the peace of every age, of every crisis, and of the age to come when all these things are distant memories. Be a vector of peace in your communities.

Social-distancing Doesn’t Equal Relational-distancing

Loving your neighbors well during this time may mean for many of us staying home, not gathering in large crowds, canceling our calendars and cutting back our activities. But just because we are keeping our physical distance, does not mean we need to keep our emotional distance.

Reach out to your loved ones with a phone call, text, email, Facetime, Skype, or whatever form of communication is most comfortable for those whom you love. Check on them. See if you can help meet a need whether it may be physical, emotional or spiritual. Reach out to the people on your street or in your neighborhood, school, or workplace. Listen to God’s Spirit; perhaps someone comes to mind who could use a call or email of encouragement?

Remember that air-mask on the airplane? If you are receiving God’s oxygen flow of encouragement through drawing near in prayer and His word, you are in a position to help secure someone else’s mask.

Love Your Nearest Neighbors

Last, but certainly not least, love well those closest to home. Don’t forget that your spouse, your children, your room-mate– whoever is living within your four walls– is your closest neighbor. They need you to love well right now too. Loving well means casting your cares on the Savior, drawing your peace from Him that you may truly, selflessly focus on the needs of others. That may mean putting your phone down and playing a board-game with your stir-crazy children. It may mean re-assuring your spouse that he is more important to you than your vacation plans or your 401k. It may mean looking past the irritating qualities of your room-mate and focusing on something you like about them or just making a meal together. Who knows, how slowing down, cutting back, and staying home might strengthen your relationships, if you lean into God’s care for you and extend that same love to those closest to you.

To “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) means to care for yourself by drawing near to God so that you can extend that love to others. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean relational distancing. If we look to Christ for our strength, we might find our relationships growing stronger than ever.

I leave you with the words from one Rebecca Arendell Franks, writing from Wuhan, China. She shares how God has been with them in the quarantine. Take heart:

Rebecca Arendell Franks is with Tsungirirayi Tinotenda Chakaza Fisher and 2 others.
March 8 at 3:42 AM
WUHAN. It’s roughly day 48 of the city’s quarantine. We’ve been locked in our apartment complex for many weeks. I haven’t eaten out since January 19. We’re living in such strange times.
After my last post, which was all about locks on doors and further restrictions, my husband asked me if I’ve posted any of the good. But…but… well, but nothing. That convicted me.
So from the epicenter of the coronavirus, here is just SOME of the good we have been experiencing because of the lockdown: (Be warned – there is no way this post could be short.)
Our family life has never been better. Usually one weekend is long enough before I’m ready to send each of us back to school or work. But for SEVEN weeks, we’ve been home together with very little outside influences or distraction, forced to reconnect with one another, learn how to communicate better, give each other space, slow down our pace, and be a stronger family than ever before.
We’ve learned how to accept help from others. During this time, we’ve HAD to rely on others to show us how to get food and other things we need. People here are so good, and they want to help. It’s satisfying to accept the help.
Shopping is so much easier now. It comes straight to our complex, and we just pick it up. Simple.
Right now I hear birds outside my window (on the 25th floor). I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan, because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people. All day long now I hear birds singing. It stops me in my tracks to hear the sound of their wings.
Spring in Wuhan is absolutely stunning. God has been giving us glimpses of the beauty to come with near-perfect weather. Because of lockdown, we get to watch spring slowly unfold right in front of us with no work, traffic, pollution, or other distractions. I have pulled up my chair and am ready for the creator’s show.
My cooking has gotten way more creative. I’m cooking like a homesteader. Housekeeping hasn’t suffered, either.
We take naps in the middle of the day sometimes.
We’ve all been reading so much more than before.
I’ve reconnected with lots of old friends. We’ve talked with our families more than ever before.
We still work and do school, but all from home and all on flexible hours. It is not perfect, but it is fairly productive and good.
We are exercising more. Because we borrowed a rowing machine from school right before the lockdown, Edgar Franks has been rowing regularly at home and has lost several kilos already. I still walk in the morning as usual, but I do so with no time restrictions and now with friend Erika Carlson.
In my yoga world, I have finally done a forearm stand. I also share goofy yoga photos each day with a local friend/yogi. This keeps us connected in spirit and movement.
I could devote a whole post to the amazing community we’ve been blessed with because of this lockdown. We live near 4 other staff members, most of whom we didn’t know well at all prior to this. Because of this quarantine, we have bonded with and supported each other in ways that I’ve never experienced in 9 years of living here. (Crowd sourcing for feminine products and coffee, creatively sharing overstock of carrots and squash, etc)
Friday night, we four staff women celebrated Julia Marie Roehrkasse’s birthday together. We four have never before been together without husbands, kids, or larger community. But that night, I felt like I won the lottery in the friendship department. Our gathering was genuine in a way that can only be shared by people who are experiencing the same thing at the same time and understand what each other are going through. This bond we have may lessen when our world gets back to normal, but for now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is good.
My prayer life has never been better and my study time has been much more real. I have quiet time that is actually (usually) quiet – and I can devote real time to it. Most days I have so much more time to think, to listen, to process, and to discover. I am discovering the good gifts that God has given me and my family. More than anything, I am bowled over by his goodness at every turn. He overwhelms me with his goodness.
We had “church” by Zoom this morning at 10:30, as usual. My husband just woke up from his nap. My kid is reading quietly on the couch. I have the luxury of writing uncensored here on FB. We are about to go pick up a ham that a friend is giving us, taking her our coffee and cranberries to share.
God is providing so many opportunities for good while we are here, and he is showing us his goodness every single moment.
We are at peace in the epicenter of the virus. We are at peace in the epicenter of his will.
Fear is a faithless coward and has no place in the lives of believers. Fear and worry have no seat at our table. We’re here because he wants us here, right now, for his purpose.
Coronavirus wants you to isolate and stock up and take care of your own first. Instead, look to him first while you take care of others. In community, we can do so much more than we can do on our own. God is caring for us so richly and showering us with SO MUCH GOOD each and every moment.
And the song just plays nonstop in my head – Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the 99.
I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Psalm 118:6 – The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

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Falling Short

The other night my husband and I watched a small-budget film. We cringed in places at the writing and acting. While it was clear the film had heart, we stopped the movie more than once to groan over its shortcomings.

Now I’m a huge proponent of doing whatever you are called to do with as much excellence as you can. And while healthy criticism has an important place, I want to bracket that for the moment to share the wave of conviction I felt later that evening as I went to bed.

God laid me flat with this thought: It’s easy to criticize; it’s hard to create.

Clearly, we live in a consumer-oriented culture. Everywhere we go, we are lulled into the sluggishness of consumption. Restaurants, grocery-stores, our televisions, even our churches let us limp along with the false assumption that our primary purpose in life is to lap up the fruits of others’ toil.

But God made us all in His creator image for a purpose: to model Him in creating. And that means everyone, creative types and those who would never apply that label to themselves. God calls each of us to create and bring order out of chaos.

But here’s the rub: to create, as an imperfect being, means to create with imperfections. It means even as we aim, we err.

Earlier tonight, my middle son sat crumpled in my lap in tears. He had labored over a drawing book, emulating a master artist’s creation of a blue jay. Despite my son’s earnestness and effort, his final product was not like the master’s. That gap between ideal and real undid him with shame.

As I gathered him in my arms, did I mock his work? Certainly not. Did I lie to him and tell him it was easily as good as the drawing in the book? No. But I truthfully told him that his drawings showed much more promise than mine did at his age. I praised his effort and encouraged him that even going through the process of emulating the master’s work he was learning and improving. I sympathized with the gap between our hoped-for creations and our actual-creations. And I told him I was so very proud of him and pleased that he was practicing his drawing skills.

Here’s my point. God calls all of us to create. To create is by nature a risk and we have no promise of perfection. But that risk by no means gives us the right to opt out. Like the parable of the talents, we have been entrusted with a sum. The master will by no means be pleased if we bury it in the ground (Mt. 25:14-30).

We consume on auto-pilot. That’s easy. Criticizing? Yep, that comes naturally too. But where is God calling you to take a harder route?

Creation requires mindfulness, effort, and vulnerability. Perhaps the fear and nakedness we feel as we do it, might just be the reason God calls us to it in the first place. “Take my hand,” he whispers: “I’m with you.” Falling short might just mean we have to fall up and further in.

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For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

afloat
There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Just Another Day Dragon-slaying: Raising Braveheart

dragon-slaying“Mama, I’m scared,” intones my three-year old in a half-whine, half-cry as he clings to my legs.

“There’s a dragon in the playroom.”

“A dragon?” I ask incredulously.

“Uh-huh,” he moans.

I bend down to look at those pale blue eyes. I see his pretend fear, only it looks real to me. And so I whisper and hope it goes down deep to his soul, “You don’t have to be afraid.”

And then I ask with a breathless urgency, “Where’s your sword? Let’s go get him!” Together, we hunt for his plastic sabre and then call out like the brave heroes we’re pretending to be: “‘Watch out, dragon! Here we come!’”

This mama is no natural Braveheart. But years of trusting God have taught me that our posture in the world needs to be that of the overcomer. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” it says in Romans 8:31. “In this world, you will have trouble,” says Jesus, “but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And who could forget those famous rousing words to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9)?

How I wish I could tattoo this on his heart! If I could speak anything deep into the core of my little boy as he grows to be a man, it would be this. If God is with you, you need not fear. It’s not that scary things won’t happen. It’s not that you will be immune from hardship or pain. But if God is your friend, you will never face anything alone. If God is with you, you can count on the fact that no matter what evil you encounter, He has already had the ultimate victory. Evil can only go so far and no further. Its days are numbered. I’ve read the end of the story and good wins out.

Oh, how I want him to know that deep down in his bones. Because I want him to enter the world bravely, not as one who must cower back in fear, but one who goes with confidence. I want him to enter the world not as one who goes with the foolish arrogance of impermeability, but as one who goes with courage even in his frailty because he does not walk alone.

When I was younger, I remember being so desperately afraid of the dark. One night when something had roused me from my bed in pure fear, my mom taught me this verse. Yes, she taught it to me in the middle of the night—in the middle of my fear: “Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). To this day, when I’m afraid—I mean really afraid, like when I came home to a burglarized house or when we pulled up to a throng of hysterical people blocking our road home from the edge of Congo—when I’m afraid, I still whisper, “Greater is he that is within me, than he that is in the world.”

The dragon in our house keeps re-appearing. Sometimes he’s a dinosaur. Sometimes he’s a bad guy. Sometimes he’s an alligator. I know he will appear in all kinds of forms to my son as he ages. For now, we keep rehearsing, “Don’t be afraid, my son, I’m with you. We stand together.”

Maybe, if we rehearse this often enough, we’ll both learn to play our parts with boldness. Maybe, if we keep practicing standing up to the dragons, we will learn to carry ourselves like the overcomers we are.

No, in our house, dragons will not have the last say. In our house, dragons are the ones who must flee.

Maybe all of us could use a little rehearsing.

 
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