Over the last couple of weeks I have hesitated to write about what is top of mind for most of the world right now: viruses, death rates, failing economies, and quarantines. But, like most of you, the topic has consumed my thoughts and changed my daily life.
These really are unprecedented times - ones that will go down in history books. And as those who are living through these history-making times, it's alright (even appropriate) to share the thoughts swirling around in our brains.
My thoughts are shaping around four main themes: Hopelessness, Relationship, Work, and Liberty.
Hopelessness: A community close to where I live recently had a day in which their emergency services departments responded to 5 suicide calls. Five suicides. In one day. This is in a community that is rural and spread out - known to be self-sufficient, independent, and strong. And yet, due to the stay-at-home measures being implemented in our state, there were enough people severely depressed that 5 of them chose to take their own lives. And that was just on one day.
I've also seen multiple articles and reports showing that while more people are confined to their houses, children are bearing the brunt of parents' frustrations and abuse rates have risen substantially.
These two things are heartbreaking to me. They speak to me of a deep-seated hopelessness in our culture. We likely didn't see it clearly while the world was running like normal, but when there's a change like the one we're experiencing now, the hopelessness becomes painfully obvious.
What are we basing our happiness on as a society if a few weeks of disruption can lead us to literally killing ourselves and abusing our children? Our work. Our schedules. Our friends. Our entertainment. Our money. These are what are being stripped away and in their place is remaining this hopelessness that drives people to the point of insanity.
What this demonstrates is that as a Society we need to look to the Source of hope that will last through life's disruptions, hardships, setbacks, and pains. That Source is Jesus and He is a lasting Friend. A Companion who supersedes Social Distancing and will remain with you through the strictest Stay at Home policies.
Relationship: I have been to the grocery store a few times since this all started and I choose not to wear a mask (that is my right, after all). Being nearly 9 months pregnant and with baby squishing my lungs, the additional difficulty of breathing through a mask might be enough to cause me serious issues. What is interesting to me though, is the number of people with their faces covered looking at me like some kind of threat. I feel alone, cut off, like I'm in an alternative reality. And I can't help but wonder if, behind their masks, that's what they're feeling too.
I hate the masks. I really do. They block the one feature of ourselves that tells a bit of our story to the world around us. I am generally a very friendly person who loves social interaction, even if that means just giving a wide smile to the person I walk beside in the grocery store. I search for the return smile and when I see it, I know there's joy or happiness and I can rejoice with them in some small way. Sometimes my smile is returned with a tight, thin response of the mouth that shows stress or overwhelm - I feel for that person, having been in that place before. And sometimes it's the shadow that seems to be on the entire face that demonstrates some kind of deep sadness or grief and my heart breaks a little for what that fellow human is experiencing.
With our faces covered, we can no longer gauge the humanity around us. We've been told to stay at least 6 feet away from each other when what we really need is nearness. We are told not to gather when what humanity was made for was fellowship - with both God and man.
These distancing measures are good and right for a time, but I believe that the longer we are subjected to them, we are destroying a bit of one of the things we were created for - Relationship.
You see, as we walk through this world, we are all searching for acceptance, for love, for understanding, for relationship. A brief interaction with someone in the grocery store satisfies a small and seemingly insignificant part of that search. But when we don't have even that most basic relational experience, we are left feeling devoid and purposeless. When it goes beyond that and we are not allowed to gather in our homes, on our beaches, in our parks, or at our churches, we are seriously increasing a need that is greater than ourselves. It's a need that many people likely didn't recognize before all this started and it's a need that another glass of wine or Netflix show can't fill.
Work: When all this started and businesses were required to shut down (or massively reduce their operations), millions of people found themselves out of a job. For those, the normal routine of life was majorly disrupted. They went from waking up to an annoying alarm, showering, working, eating, watching a show and back to sleeping, to no alarms, no (socially acceptable) dressing of themselves, no working. Instead their days have been filled with couch lounging and Netflix, with boredom and no schedules. And I'm sure for the first days (and weeks), it was a welcome reprieve. To not rush out the door, to not sit in rush hour traffic, to not feel the weight of responsibility of work... to finally have time for those lazy days we all dream about.
But there comes a time when it's too much. You can truly have too much of a good thing and the couch and Netflix only hold an appeal for so long. It doesn't take many days of boredom to drive someone to crave work, to long for the schedule they used to bemoan. Because, once again, it's something in our nature that is innately part of who we are.
We were made to work. To create. To be a part of keeping our world going around.
Without the ability to fulfill this basic need, there are only two options for humanity: either further immerse yourself into the boring and find yourself more depressed than you've ever been or embrace the change and become the creative, ingenuitive, capturer-of-dreams that you could be. Only one of these options will fulfill you while the other will leave you wondering what the purpose of life even is.
So while you may not be able to work at your physical job, there are plenty of ways to make yourself useful. Improve yourself. Read the books on your nightstand. Go outside and build something. Watch YouTube and learn to decorate a cake or cook the perfect steak or build a firepit or bend some metal. There's a wealth of knowledge at each of our fingertips - but it takes desire, gumption, and motivation to utilize. Be the person that comes out better and stronger on the other side of this than the one who will emerge half dressed, 20 pounds heavier, with no motivation to do anything. Again, it's a choice to be made. And in this time of many choices being removed from us, continue to make the ones you still can.
Liberty: The most weighing thought of all my thoughts over the last few weeks has been the one of liberty. I was raised in a home (and in a country) that espoused the ideals and beauty of personal liberty and personal responsibility. The people around us, whether in our church or in our community or in the greater space of the nation as a whole, were also concerned with these same concepts. We held to the belief that we were endowed with certain unalienable rights that would allow us to worship as we saw fit, to gather when we wanted, to show respect to those around us, to operate our businesses, to have an opinion - even if it was unpopular.
But I've watched and mourned the suspension of those rights in just a few short weeks. No longer is it a given that we can voice an unpopular opinion because we will be crucified on social media. No longer can we drive even from community to community to appreciate the beauty and budding springtime around us. No longer can we operate our businesses in a manner that has proven safe for others - only because we fit under the banner of "non-essential". No longer can we congregate (even in our vehicles!) to celebrate and practice our religion.
It's in the name of the greater good - I get that. We are doing this to protect our elderly, our immuno-compromised, our health care workers, our neighbors and friends. And all that sounds good and noble on the surface. And I believe it is a good and noble and right cause. But I also believe that it has gone too far. It is a line that is difficult to distinguish, but I would say we've long since crossed it.
When the safety of a nation's people supersedes the freedoms of the same, we must seriously question whether the measures are helpful or hurtful.
I know mine is an unpopular opinion (though I'm encouraged to see that it's becoming a more popular one). I've been called uncaring and unwise, though neither (I hope) is true. I care deeply about the individuals, the families, and the front line workers, who are experiencing first hand the effects of Coronavirus. But I also equally care deeply for the business owners who have lost their livelihoods; for the moms and dads who are looking at numbers for the next few months wondering how they will feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads; for the hundreds of thousands of kids who will die around the world because of the greatest economic recession since the Great One of the late 1920's and early 1930's.
One doesn't have to dismiss one group of people to embrace caring for another. I believe in acting with wisdom and discretion to keep our vulnerable people alive and healthy. I also believe in acting with wisdom and discretion to keep our workforce employed and our children fed. These are not mutually exclusive concepts and it is time that we, as a free people, are allowed once again to use our God-given brains to safely exercise our God-given rights.It's time to give people hope, to allow again for relationship, to open up America so that her people can work, and ultimately to regain the liberties that we seemed to have quickly forgotten.