Are you noticing just how different the world is around you? How communities, relationships, and the ways in which we live our lives (both communally and individually) have changed over the last two years?
I have heard people talk about how living through an era of pandemic has changed the rhythms of our lives and the world. I believed it to be true, but it hasn’t been until recently that I really stopped to pay attention to the change in the world around me. Lately, I’ve been more intentional about seeing and naming the new realities emerging as we move into the next phase of pandemic (or endemic or whatever we call this time).
At the start of Lent, I talked with a clergy friend about Ash Wednesday and we reflected on how different it felt this year. He specifically mentioned that when presiding over the liturgy, he looked out at his congregation and noticed how different it was compared to two years ago, when they had last worshipped in-person together on Ash Wednesday. After that conversation, I started noticing differences in how my own faith community looked. And I didn’t just notice changes at church. I also noticed the changes in the ways myself, my friends, and my neighbors live our lives. I’ve even noticed changes in my own faith.
To be honest, noticing these things is unsettling to me. Change is scary. We’re figuring out how to have relationships and live in a world that looks and feels different than it did in March 2020. This is hard, especially for us who lead congregations and families through these changes while also navigating them ourselves.
There is comfort in knowing that we aren’t the first people learning to live in a changing world. We hear this in the Revised Common Lectionary readings of Eastertide. These are stories from scripture about people who are living in a new reality. In the Gospel lessons, Jesus’ followers experience his resurrection, and he prepares them for the day he will no longer be with them. In stories from the book of Acts, we hear about the leaders of the early church and the transformation they experience— both personally (like Saul’s conversion) and communally (through preaching, healing, and praying together). The season ends with the Ascension and then Pentecost; Jesus ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit arrives to equip and guide the disciples. The lives of Jesus’ followers will never be the same again.
The early church and her people figured out how to preach and teach and love one another in a world that was changed post-resurrection. Perhaps, then, we can do the same things in a world that looks and feels different to us, too.
How then, do we navigate all the change coming into our lives? I can’t say that I have all the answers, but I can share things that are inspiring me and helping me navigate life, leadership, and ministry during this new time.
First, I absolutely love listening to author and podcaster Emily P. Freeman, whose work focuses on discernment and decision-making in the context of spiritual formation and practice. Her podcast The Next Right Thing has been a balm to my soul over the last couple of years. Many episodes have given me encouragement and practices to help me step into whatever is next in my life and ministry. These are a few recent episodes I found especially helpful:
- Episode 197: For Us, As Our Faith Changes
- Episode 212: How to Walk Out of a Room
- Episode 219: 20 Questions to Ask Before You Say Yes to a Great Opportunity
- Episode 223: How to Move Through Small Disappointments
Second, I want to live into the joy of Eastertide. These fifty days are about celebrating the resurrection! We are celebrating the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, but I also believe that we are celebrating our lives resurrecting as we begin to gather and build community together again. I want to be intentional about noting the joyful moments in this new time together. Last week I hosted a dinner for a group of formation leaders which included articulating our gratitude for the joyful moments of the past program year. The dinner was life giving and nurtured our community in such a rich way.
We are navigating a new season, a new reality. And, although it may feel scary and hard, it’s also beautiful. I pray we all remember that, even in difficult moments, the risen Jesus is with us every step of the way.
As I read your fourth paragraph detailing the differences you noticed between your life and community before and now, wearing masks came to my mind. As someone at high risk of COVID, I still wear a mask whenever I’m unsure of my surroundings–not all the time, just when I don’t have all the facts about a situation.
This is what I do physically, but what do I do spiritually?
I ask this question as part of what did God want to teach me through my pandemic experience? What change, if any, does God want me to make as a result of this experience? I saw the pandemic as God doing a new thing, not just in my life, but in the world, but what does that mean for me?
Well, a mask is a form of protection, a guard. When i wear a mask, I am guarding or protecting my respiratory system. My respiratory system is the gateway to my heart. It delivers life giving oxygen to my heart. But before giving the oxygen to your heart, the respiratory system removes toxins from the air it breathes in so that only oxygen goes to your heart.
COVID is a respiratory virus, meaning it attacks your respiratory system. By damaging your respiratory system, COVID removes the biological guard, God placed over my heart. But Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”
The enemy doesn’t want our hearts to function properly because, to personalize Proverbs 4:23, out of our hearts spring life. The enemy has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). What better way to steal, kill, and destroy us and our creations than to damage our hearts or our respiratory systems–the biological guards over our hearts.
That being said, spiritually before COVID, I’m not sure we were as diligent in guarding our hearts. I know I wasn’t. And remember, the enemy comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. So, he is regularly attacking our respiratory systems. The enemy is regularly sending respiratory viruses to take our spiritual lives and spiritual breathe away. This is why God charged us in Proverbs 4:23 to not only to guard our hearts, but to do so diligently.
So, for me, what I am doing differently? I’m still wearing my mask because when I wear my mask, it is an act of obedience. And, when I am prayerfully obedient, the peace of God guards my hearts and minds too (Philippians 4:7).