by Mike Phay
It’s been a strange couple of weeks. Schools are closed, social distancing is the norm, restaurants can only serve take-out, and many folks have lost their jobs. The stock market has taken a nose-dive and the health of the economy is in question. And none of us knows how long this is going to last.
I’ve noticed two divergent responses to all that has happened. One was illustrated in crowds of Oregonians flouting our governor’s urging to stay home and flocking to the beach, the Gorge, and our beautiful State Parks. Others fail to see the need to diverge from life-as-normal because they don’t feel at-risk. This response of noncompliance rejects seemingly unreasonable and needless restrictions on individual and societal freedoms.
The opposite response is observed in the bare shelves of the toilet paper aisles of every grocery store in Prineville. When the security of having enough is threatened, we fear scarcity. This threat triggers a fight and flight response: competing with one another over what we perceive to be limited supplies, and hunkering down with what we have. This response of anxiety is preoccupied with a frightening and unknown future.
Obviously these are extremes, and most of us fall somewhere in between. Regardless, each of these responses is based in fear. This is obvious for those whose hearts and minds are experiencing anxiety. But how is noncompliance fear-based? Because it’s driven by the fear of losing what is valued most: unobstructed freedom and self-direction.
Grounded in Love
A Christian response in this time of crisis is reflected in neither of these extremes.
It is not a response of anxiety, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Similarly: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Neither is it a noncompliant response that elevates one’s own rights as supreme: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Christians are called to willingly and joyfully lay down their rights for others—just like Jesus did (see Philippians 2:5-8).
Rather, in times of great uncertainty, the Christian response is to be grounded in love. For “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a).
So the question is, how do we love in a time like this?
First, we love others with a non-anxious presence.
To be non-anxious when it seems like everything around us is rife with worry and concern begins by nurturing a foundational trust in an all-powerful, sovereign, trustworthy, and faithful Savior. God is not surprised by the crisis taking place across the globe, and he is not anxious about how it’s going to play out. In fact, he will use it to carry out his redemptive purposes in the world and in our community. We can rest in that reality, and even join him in his redemptive work.
Choosing to live as a non-anxious presence means proactively pursuing trust over fear. As a church, we are choosing to love and bless our neighbors through embodying the deep trust that marks our faith, and living that out in front of our friends, neighbors, and family.
Second, we love by submitting to authorities.
In Romans 13:1-2, we read: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
I find many people who choose non-compliance to government directives during this time because they don’t believe this coronavirus is a threat to them. They are young and healthy. But what they don’t recognize is the clear data-driven fact that as with any virus—and maybe even more so because of it’s long incubation period of 14 days—this thing thrives and spreads through carriers, many of whom will experience little or no symptoms.
So it’s actually an act of love to submit to the authorities when they ask us to “Stay at Home” and impose restrictions that seem like an overreaction. Submission and compliance is a way that we can love others by giving up our rights to protect the lives of others.
Third, we love through prayer.
Prayer is an act of faith that recognizes a radical dependence on a power that is greater than us. It is an act of desperate need. Curiously, as we are being asked to stay home, many of us are being forced to do nothing. We can’t go out and be with people. Some can’t go to work because their jobs are non-existent. In short, there is nothing we can do. We are powerless. We need help.
If you are a follower of Jesus, this may be exactly what God wants you to embrace during this time. Recognize that this is a time when we must ask God to move, or else we’re toast. We must cry out to him for help. We must love others by lifting them up in prayer: those who are sick; first responders and medical personnel who are taking on the brunt of the workload; our local, state, national, and world leaders as they are faced with serious and unprecedented decisions. There is so much to pray for, and right now, many of us have nothing but time to pray!
Fourth, we love by readily meeting needs.
There are some things that you can do to lead with love rather than fear. The list is endless, but here a few things that come to my mind: Financially support local businesses that are taking a hit during this time. Keep your eyes out for needs in the community on Facebook. Donate medical supplies. Share your toilet paper. Check on your neighbors and offer to pick up groceries or prescriptions—or cook a meal—for those who need to stay isolated for their own safety. Sign up with everychildoregon.org/myneighbor to help meet needs for foster kids and families. Give blood safely at a Red Cross (redcross.org) blood drive.
These are just a few of the hundreds of opportunities to love by meeting the needs of others throughout our community. This is a unique time to lean in.
Just make sure you stay six feet apart.