Caring for Our Hearts in a Pandemic
“We are always on the brink of chaos.” At least that’s what one of my undergrad professors would often say to me and my classmates. It wasn’t always clear what he meant by it, but as the grocery store shelves are missing toilet paper, I’m starting to understand what he meant. The whole world is on edge. We our telling ourselves to remain calm, but we feel the panic in our chests. What was once something only people in other countries had to be afraid of has become a daily reality for us in America. With news of school closings, events postponed, and worship services cancelled, the COVID-19 outbreak has hit close to home. We’ve all been advised to wash our hands for 20 seconds and stock up on a few more items, but what do we do with all that fear hiding just beneath the surface? How do we not let the chaos of the world create chaos in our hearts? How do we prepare for the worst, yet remain present in the here and now?
The ancient Jewish prophet, Jeremiah, preached to his community during a season of chaos. Their home town had just been ransacked by an enemy nation, leaving families torn apart and traumatized. The people didn’t know which way was up, let alone how they were going to navigate a world that no longer offered the safety and security they were used to. Therefore, Jeremiah said to this hurting community,
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.’”
Of course, Jeremiah was not exempt from the chaos his people were experiencing, but the Lord reminds him that peace will not come by only focusing on present circumstances. Jeremiah can’t make the trauma disappear. So instead, he offers a word from God that focuses on rest in the midst of chaos. The community could experience rest but they first needed to “ask for the ancient paths.” They needed to look backwards in order to remember how God had been faithful to their forefathers and mothers. They needed to ask themselves, what difficult circumstances had they experienced before? How had deliverance come? Where was their source for peace? And yet, not only did they have to look to the ancient paths, but they needed to ask where “the good way is, and walk in it.” Instead of reacting out of fear, the community needed to respond in love. They must not turn against each other, but rather they must seek to be good neighbors even in the midst of traumatic circumstances.
Perhaps, there is something we can learn from this ancient prophet and community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of crisis, it’s easy to become so consumed with the present, that we forget the ways we have survived chaotic times in the past. We forget the ways God has been faithful to us and how we have experienced deliverance before. In one of the articles I read this week, I was reminded of the infamous Corrie Ten Boom, who helped many people escape the Nazi regime of WWII. She said, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.” Looking to the ancient paths may not change our present circumstances, but it can add to our strength, so that we can endure the chaos.
Sadly, in times like these we can also be quick to treat our neighbors as threats and forget the need for love. We can become rude, angry, and selfish, but Jeremiah’s words remind us that rest comes as we continue to love our neighbors. Of course, we need to take proper precautions and implement the wisdom of social distancing, which in and of itself can be an act of love, but we must not abandon each other. We can still call each other or send one another a quick email or text to remind each other that we are not alone. Just as each of us still needs to be loved, so our neighbors need to be loved as well. Instead of reacting out of fear, we can respond in love.
This is a frightening and uncertain time, but it is important to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We may not be able to eliminate the chaos, but we can remember deliverance in the past and love our neighbors in the present.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
Grace and Peace,