How COVID-19 (May Have) Made Me a Better Person
posted on March 30
How COVID-19 (May Have) Made Me a Better Person
God has made everything beautiful in its time.
God has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
I grew up with my mother telling me that I was born with a blueprint. She said I always had a plan, a schedule, and a razor sharp mind. I served as her grocery list when we went shopping. I memorized everything on the list for her and called it out by aisles. I loved the orderliness of the grocery store. I also grew up to love rituals, especially the ritual of the Christian year. I love the peace and order of worship; I love that the year is built around the life and ministry of Jesus, with today being the most important one, the celebration of his Resurrection from the dead.
As a Superintendent, I have come to love the Conference year and even the puzzle that is the appointment season. Give me a problem and I’ll try to sort it out. I simply want everything to work out right. I was 41 years old before I truly understood that I could not control the weather. I have to say I was disappointed that my iron will could not stop rain during a church outreach. You see, that’s how hard I try.
With the exception of death, I have never found anything that I would not at least try to adjust. (And I’ve actually even tried to improve upon that experience for people.) Give me a bad thing; I’ll try to make it good. Give me a good thing; I’ll try to make it better. Give me an issue; I’ll debate both sides. Give me a dilemma; I’ll do something useful to help. Along comes COVID-19, inching its way across the globe in early 2020. It was the first thing that really “shut me down” for longer than a few weeks. I couldn’t fix it; I couldn’t argue with it; I could do my part and no more. It was hard to accept that. All my over-functioning (yes, there is a term for it) would not change what was happening in our world. I was going to experience a pandemic. I watched my husband and all my colleagues change up their worship plans on a dime. I watched my daughter dramatically modify her wedding dreams; I watched my son’s last year of college disintegrate into online learning.
I did what you did. I stopped. I stayed home. I prepared a fully operational office at my house. I bought many of the same groceries you did. We all battled for rice, toilet paper, and soap. And life went into slow-motion. And I saw the birds. And I saw the trees budding. And I noticed the creeks in my neighborhood and the deer in my backyard at dusk. And I read. And I sewed. And I took up paint-by-number. And I baked shortbread and perfected some of my soup recipes.
As spring arrived once again a few weeks ago, I vowed to see it with the same eyes of wonder that I had in 2020. I pledged to smell the cookies with the same appreciation, and to mindfully and gratefully season my soup.
Most of all, in 2020 I re-learned what it means to love God and my neighbor. I’ve always been decent at it. But I haven’t always been passionate about it. Many days it had been a side gig, not the main work. I thought my main work was to GET THINGS DONE for Jesus, productivity with a side of love. I finally took time to notice that God isn’t really as interested in my efficiency as in my compassion. I will not be judged (and remembered) by my problem-solving skills or my theology; I will be judged by my heart-warming presence, by my grace towards others. I don’t need to bring the world a judgment or a solution. I just need to bring to the world a gift of my love and companionship. I am simply what my dad calls “a fellow traveler” with all humankind.
Perhaps (ironically) the most meaningful thing that happened to me was that I contracted COVID-19. Exactly one year after the WHO issued a Global Health Emergency, my husband and I were both sick. It humbled me deeply. Despite devout allegiance to the “three W’s”, my husband and I both fell ill. It was not lost on me that we survived, when so many did not. I am still overwhelmed with both thanksgiving and relief. I give God thanks for our health, and I do not take it for granted that we lived to see the first day of spring 2021. God has given me yet another chance to live well here on earth.
If I allow God to have God’s way with me day by day, life will never go back to what Bev Coppley used to call “normal.” I hope to never blitz mindlessly from task to task again, checking off my to-do list. I want to journey mindfully, both in body and in spirit. I want to see all the things that God “has made beautiful in its time.” The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has “has set eternity in the human heart” even though the full scheme of things is yet unknown to us; “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Perhaps you have a bit of a “blueprint” too. Our strongly held opinions are sometimes hard to vanquish, and sometimes our greatest obstacle to true joy is our need to be right and orderly. We want to make everything beautiful in its time; but that’s God’s work, not ours.
As you reflect on the fact that you may survive past this pandemic, what is coming to your mind? I pray it is simply not an assumption that you deserved to survive it, or a proud glance into the mirror as you step quickly back into the world. No, I pray it be a new mindfulness of what you experienced in the quiet of these past many months, a new appreciation of the ordered world, and a new acceptance of people and their circumstances. Others, too, have both suffered and survived. May we love each other out of the abundance we ourselves have come to recognize as God’s gracious gifts. As you emerge, as a butterfly from its cocoon, I urge you to emerge mindfully and joyfully. That’s how Christ emerged from the tomb. He was obedient and aware, and he knew that there was beauty all around him. He spoke love and peace into the lives of others, both before and after that first Easter. May we do the same.
I’ll always, always, be grateful for the lessons I learned during my first pandemic. Lord, please don’t let me backslide.