Living in the midst of the current pandemic has brought so much turmoil and uncertainty to most everyone. We hear it on the news that speaks to us over every venue. We hear it from online blogs and articles, and we talk about it with friends over various media or at six feet of distance.
We have faced other difficult and challenging times and come out on the other side of them weathered and stronger for what we faced. We are reminded of those during this time to encourage us we can do this again during this hard time and that is likely true for most of us, but this time feels different.
Most of us can recall other times of crisis that extended to the whole of our country or the world for there is no doubt there have been tragedies of epic proportion since the world began. Some of us are old enough to remember world wars that threatened to destroy everything in their wake.
Most of us can point to cataclysmic natural disasters in our own area and across the world – tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, cyclones, volcanoes, tidal waves, hurricanes, tornados, landslides, floods, and more. Too many have experienced them over and over again.
If you live in the United States, you can name a lengthy list of crises that we have all been impacted beyond any of our own personal challenges and tragedies (how many would depend on your age). A fairly short list would include the attacks of 9/11, images of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Challenger explosion happening on TV before our eyes, assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (later his brother Robert Kennedy) and Dr. Martin Luther King, unrest and riots during the Civil Rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.
Each shocked and horrified us, created fear and uncertainty about how safe our world really was, and left us questioning what we could count on. We may have read about other tragedies in the past, but they do not give us a complete sense of what the ones we experience will be like. Reading about one of these cannot fully prepare us for living it. That has been true if we tried reading about the pandemic of the Spanish Flu of 1917-1918 era to help us in dealing with what we are living through now.
As the weeks and months have continued, I asked myself what seems so different about this one.
Leaders from all levels of government, medicine, and clergy have sought to buoy us up with their words and recommendations, but it was then that it occurred to me what is different this time and how it makes this feel dissimilar to other times of crisis.
In all those other times, we were encouraged to come together as a people whether as a neighborhood, city, state, nation, or world. We were encouraged to come together in places of worship to hear from spiritual leaders, take comfort in being together, and sense we were not alone in the anguish we felt or the discouragement and fear that threatened to overtake us.
This time, this crisis, we are asked, told, or ordered to stay apart, keep distance and more isolated, and not meet in the places of worship that have always rallied us together to face trouble in the past.
How often many of us recall seeing and hearing a seasoned and respected Billy Graham address us with his wisdom, encouragement, and comfort.
Some of us recall some of his words as he stood in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. after 9/11:
“We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that He is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”
“But today we come together in this service to confess our need of God. We’ve always needed God from the very beginning of this nation. But today we need Him especially. We’re involved in a new kind of warfare. And we need the help of the Spirit of God.”
If you have not read that message recently, it might be helpful to review it now.
I remember that crisis of 9/11 well. I was working on a church staff then and in the midst of those agonizing images of planes flying into the towers, we shuddered and feared what would come next, but we also left the offices and went to the prayer chapel, joined hands together and prayed. We held each other and as the hours went on, more and more people came to the church.
Yes, we know and knew the church, the body of Christ, is not a building, but it is a source of comfort and encouragement as we gather together to face whatever evil is afoot. Joining our voices, our hands, our arms around one another we are strengthened in intangible ways that help us bear better whatever is ahead.
This time has been different because we have not been able to do that and without realizing the full extent of why we long for it so much, we discover it is because it was the one thing missing from every other tragedy we have faced.
This time we have needed to rely on phone calls, texts, virtual gatherings of various types – all done while we are alone and apart from one another. Words like “we’re all in this together” fall short of what we felt at other times when we could be in one place at one time together to face them. We have said goodbyes to some we love through windowpanes of glass. Some of us have agonized at not being able to be with those suffering and dying in hospitals
We hope we will get through this difficult time and someday things will be more as they once were. Our character will be shaped, our values intensified, our foundations rebuilt, and hopefully we will never forget the precious gift we could not have during this time that was a part of all the other times.
Yes, this time is different for us and the difference is consequential. It’s why we feel as we do.
God is with us as always, but this apartness points to how much He desired and designed us to be together. Perhaps that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote these words:
“23 So now we must cling tightly to the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps his promises!24 Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. 25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.”
Hebrews 10:23-25 (TPT)
In whatever ways we can…