I’ve started to sort my life into pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 buckets. When I’m not thinking about the way things were before the pandemic, I’m convinced I’m fine—good, even. I’m used to COVID-19 and the many new “normals” it’s created. Zoom calls, face masks, and worship from my couch have become routine. There’s even things I like about my new normal (weekday bread-baking!).
But sometimes thinking about life before COVID-19 makes me ache for the past in a way that I never have before. Last week marked one year since my grandma died. And marking that anniversary made me wish I could hug the grandparents I still have tightly, pressing my chest up against theirs and soaking up the warmth of their love. But I didn’t. I can’t show my love that way safely enough to do that right now.
I have seen my grandparents since this started (with social distancing and mostly outdoors). Some of you reading this might think it’s wrong that I saw them at all. And others might think my hesitation to hug them is where I’m getting it wrong. I’ve personally thought both those things myself, at different times. This is what’s so hard about COVID-19.
Before this pandemic, I never thought twice about whether it was loving for me to spend time with my grandparents, to give them hugs, and to go inside their homes. Now even small choices about the physical contact I have with other people involve moral dilemmas—it’s astounding, when you think about it, just how many people can be impacted by the decisions any one of us makes. And it’s complex to try to detangle all of the costs and benefits of even small, socially distanced gatherings.
I’m not perfect. And I’m not getting everything right about loving like Jesus in a pandemic. So I’m learning to give myself and the people around me grace for the ways we fall short. As tired as I am of carrying this moral weight around, I think I’ll look back on this as an important spiritual experience. We all need breaks from the demands of our normal, and we can all benefit from having to ask ourselves foundational questions instead of taking for granted that we know their answers. Those two things might seem contradictory, but COVID-19 proves to me they aren’t.
The systemic impact of COVID-19 shows that we are interconnected—that we exist in systems that tie us together, whether we realize it or not. But it also shows that we don’t all experience the systems we live in the same way; because systems impact us differently, some people need to experience love right now differently than others. There’s a lot of parallels to this perspective about COVID-19 in systemic racism, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that racism has been at the forefront of the national conversation alongside the pandemic.
We can’t solve all the world’s problems at once. We need Sabbath just as much as we need work ethic during the rest of the week. And when there are no easy answers, making space for grace and for prayer is essential. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the moral quandaries and hard questions; it means sincerely pursuing these hard questions and relying on Christ more than ever to guide our faithful response.