I had to laugh when I read this quote recently: “I didn’t realize how much I had to give up for Lent this year.”
Lent is the period prior to Easter characterized by fasting, abstaining from things and activities, and self-reflection. Commemorating Jesus’ forty days in the desert, Lent is intended to help us focus on God and the things of God. While Lent is a spiritual practice largely abandoned by much of the Christian Church, abstinence can teach us many things about ourselves—not the least of which is our attachments, our addictions, our vices, our anxieties, our faith. God can teach us a lot through Lent.
Which, in our current situation, strikes me as a little more than ironic. As we speak, people have been sequestering for a number of weeks now. The streets are empty, the toilet paper aisle is bare, businesses are suffering, and the stock market is plunging (except for Zoom stock, me thinks). Churches are learning how to be online communities, with streaming worship services, virtual small group meetings, and podcast sermons. In a very real sense, Lent has been imposed upon the entire world. But if we’re attentive to our souls, I think we can learn—in the midst of this self-imposed isolation—some very important things. What drives us, what clings to us, what are the real priorities of our being?
Which brings me to the question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately. “What is God teaching you through all this?”
Here are five answers I’ve been hearing from others.
We crave community. Regardless of your introvert/extrovert leanings, we are all starting to see how community is an essential aspect of living, and an essential aspect of faith. We need one another, communally and spiritually. Our souls need healthy relational interaction, because we are hard-wired that way. I am surprised, even touched, by how people have been reaching out to one another in deep and substantive ways through Zoom meetings and phone calls and texts and Facebook comments, in an effort to foster community.
We are afraid of stillness. Sometimes it seems that the only millennial sin these days is boredom. We keep ourselves insanely plugged into our devices and activities, because I think, at some level, we have lost the ability to simply sit and contemplate, meditate, reflect, be still. And yet, this pandemic has given us the time to do so. Luxurious, unhindered time. To sit—mindfully and spiritually—and simply be. We need to reclaim this lost art.
We default to anxiousness way too much. The pandemic is a first-world problem. There, I said it. For those who are in third-world situations, the pandemic is a crisis of epic proportion—people starving, lack of life essentials, getting sick, dying. And that is a horrible, horrible thing. But for many of those of us in the United States, let’s face it. The pandemic largely means a lack of convenience, a lessening of security, a loss of income. And while these things are serious, they are still first-world problems. My sister-in-law, who works at a supermarket, tells me daily that the customers now are at their meanest, most impatient, most greedy, most selfish. They are acting out their anxiousness in socially destructive ways. At a spiritual level, our anxiousness reveals a lack of trust in the God who tells us to be anxious for nothing, but rejoice in all things.*
Fear is the spiritual pandemic. I want to be clear in stating that I believe it is necessary to follow all the protocols and highly prioritize safety during this time. That being said, I see a lot of people responding to the pandemic not with informed prudence but with panicked fear. Hoarding comes from a fear of not having. Negativity and hostility are reactions to fear for our safety. Selfishness is rooted in the fear of not getting our way. For those of us who follow Jesus, we must remind ourselves not to succumb to the fear, but instead lean into love. For we are not called to fear but to love. And perfect love drives out fear.
Someone reminded me recently that it was the Christians who faithfully served others during the Black Plague. Martin Luther encouraged those in ministry to prudently “remain steadfast before the peril of death.” As a worship pastor and leader, I often lead people to sing songs about God’s love, God’s hope, God’s provision, God’s victory. Are these simply words that we sing? To what degree do we really believe them? It’s in times like these that we should ponder if our attitudes really reflect our faith.
There is goodness in the world. Many people remind me that this pandemic has been an opportunity for people to express goodness in the world. Everything from neighbors sharing their toilet paper, to extravagant donations for the cause, to the brave medical community (and the equally brave service communities), to acts of artistry and whimsy. In a dark crisis, goodness will shine brightly. And this gives me hope. It’s a reminder that God’s Kingdom is not just some far-away future concept, but it is here and now, being manifest through the love God expresses through others.
Love God. Love others. Wash your hands.
[Asterisk Note: Please know that I am quite sympathetic to those who suffer from anxiety and depression, and I don’t count you among those to which I am referring. God bless you guys during this trying time.]