I saw a picture of a church on Facebook. Outside the church, the message board read, “Had Not Planned On Giving Up Quite This Much For Lent.” Ain’t that the truth? Since the world closed up shop in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it does seem like this Lent is laying the whole fasting thing on a bit thick. No restaurants. No amusement parks. No shopping malls. No live performances. No group activities. No vacations. No hugs. And I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone giving up buying toilet paper and disinfectant wipes for lent before. This has to be the lentiest lent that ever lent.
Some people say that this pandemic is an omen. They believe the contagion is God’s judgment on a wicked world. They see our current times as the end of times. Maybe they are right. It is hard not to feel some sense of doom in this time of disease and quarantine. The television and internet feeds us, minute-by-minute, on the number of new cases and the number of dead. The curve is growing, not flattening. This is to be expected in the short term, as we test more potential victims. There has not been time yet for people who were initially infected to get well, so the curve is still climbing. Even though this analysis makes sense, it is easy to get caught up in a Doomsday feeling. For those of us who believe that God is all-powerful, it can be an easy logical leap to conclude that God caused the pandemic.
I don’t put any limits on God. It is possible that there is something to the Doomsday theory. I don’t really think God works like that, though. I don’t think He caused the pandemic to eliminate evil and destroy the wicked. I do think, however, that He uses the pandemic to help transform us into the people He wants us to be. Now that we are forced to fast from many of our favorite leisure activities, we have more time to spend in prayer, Scripture-reading, and thoughtful consideration of our life’s purpose and goals. Now that we must forgo human touch, communal church services, receiving the Eucharist, and sharing a meal, we may not take these blessings for granted in the future. Now that the most fun thing we do all week long is zip through the Starbuck’s drive-through (while trying not to breathe), we will be more grateful for those trips to Disney and other more exciting places. Now that we cannot meet with people face-to-face, we are developing our community-building and care-taking skills in more creative ways.
I am one of those people who do tend to get stir crazy and bored when I stay at home for more than a day or two. Weirdly, I am neither right now. I’ve been productive in my weeks of isolation. I’ve overcome some of my social anxiety tics and am staying connected with people. Some of my relationships are even growing richer and closer. I’ve focused my pent-up energy on projects like figuring out a system for conference call and video meetings. I’m writing more. I’ve tackled a few big chores that I have been deferring for months. I’m thinking more than reacting. My mind is not as busy or bustling, but I am thinking clearer. I’ve spent more time with God. I’m working on several prayer projects- praying deliberately and intensely for certain people multiple times a day.
So, while I did not intend to give up so much for Lent, I think God is using my enforced mega-fast to do exactly what Lent is supposed to do. He allows me to partner with Him to cleanse, grow, and ripen my soul. I delight in the paths He shows me during this time. I am trying to follow them because I believe that God has a purpose for each of us and that purpose is unique to each of us. I’ve tried to find that purpose all my life, in every job and relationship I’ve had. The trail hasn’t always been as clearly marked as it is this Lent. Still, I believe God is teaching me in everything I do, so I try to be patient and trust. As the Bible says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
This coronavirus lent has been good for my spiritual development. Still, like everyone else, I look forward to the day when it is over. I am excited to face a resurrection of activities and contacts. The sun will shine brighter, and our emotional muscles will be able to take a little rest. We will be able to mourn the losses we sustain, but we’ll also be able to move towards healing in a different way- perhaps with more kindness and care-taking of each other. All this time we’ve spent in isolation prepares us for that day.
But let’s not forget that we have a more immediate, even more beautiful Resurrection to celebrate. We’ve spent the last forty days preparing to rejoice anew that Christ is risen. Sunday is Easter, the most triumphant day in the Christian year. God will remind us again that what we thought we had lost is not lost at all… in fact, it is more brilliant and more wonderful than we can possibly understand. Jesus- through His life, suffering, and death- brought us back to at-one-ment with God. Because of Him, we are God’s adopted children. We are part of a loving, connected, holy family which can never be destroyed. We are never in isolation or quarantine when we follow the risen Lord!
What has lent been like for you this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis? Do you feel that you have transformed in some way, as we approach Easter? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.