The common grief of COVID-19 draws us nearer to each other—and God
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The month of March felt like it went by slower than an entire dreary winter. Has it really been less than three weeks since the governor and mayor ordered everyone in Los Angeles, where I live, to shelter-in-place?
The story keeps changing: At first, officials told us the coronavirus was under control; then we heard healthcare workers freaking out because the sick were filling hospital beds. They told us only elderly people or those with underlying medical conditions died from the disease; then we learned that people of all ages had severe and sometimes fatal symptoms.
Here in LA, they told us the shutdown of nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic would last until April 19, but now Mayor Eric Garcetti says to prepare for at least two more months of closures. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has talked his voice hoarse and looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks, will not even give us a deadline for when the state will ease back to normalcy.
We don’t know what’s happening, and we’re dealing with a collective grief that we’ve not experienced before. A giant sponge inside us soaks up all the dark news and stories, sinking heavier and wetter with the loss and pain and anxiety and fears. Who will come wring this wretchedness out of us—and when?
I hear that cry from a lot of people around me. One friend texted me over the weekend that she had cried all day. She’s a social butterfly who loves dining and drinking out with friends until the moon slides into dawn, and now she’s cooped up inside her parents’ house with no one to distract her from her loneliness, her lack of self-worth, her unmet desires. “I’m trying to not be selfish and grateful that I have a job,” she said. “But I’ve just been sad and can’t help it because I just can’t deal with it.”
Another friend, a single mother who’s now unemployed, texted me, “I think I am more depressed than I thought.” She said she was avoiding even social media interaction and wanted to hide under her bed covers all day. Yet another friend, a speech therapist at a rehab center, sent me panicked texts asking for prayer almost every day, terrified she would catch the coronavirus while working. It didn’t help that she lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment with no roommates, no pets.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t seem to find the space to grieve my own personal loss of a wedding. With all the groans and moans of this world, my mind clinked and clanged all day with noise—and shame. What’s the loss of a wedding compared to the loss of a loved one?
I also felt thrown off. My fiancé and I made Plan B for our canceled wedding, which gave us some initial comfort, but that quickly fell apart. As the restrictions in Los Angeles County expanded, Plan C and then Plan D crumbled, and now we don’t even know if Plan E will happen.
Everything is too uncertain to plan anything, and that’s something everyone can identify with right now. This virus took away our immediate future—our ability to plan, to look forward to something, to seek security in the world we once knew. Yet I believe God is doing something through this global disorientation and grief. When else have so many people all at once lamented the realization that we don’t have as much control over our lives as we thought? When else have so many people, all trapped inside their silos of isolation, had to sit and listen to the cries of their heart, the pain and longings that we let our busy, hurried lives sweep into the deepest crevices of our souls? Now our souls are stretched out bare, and all our ugly thoughts and emotions are popping to the surface.
The gospel opportunities are full and ripe. Just like when the Israelites cried out to God during their slavery days in Egypt, God hears our cries of affliction (Exodus 3:9, Deuteronomy 26:7). He can redeem something glorious and beautiful out of these tumultuous times. God was not silent then, and He is not silent now. He offers freedom and salvation, not just for us Christians, but for the entire aching world.
Though we no longer congregate for church services and community groups, the urge for fellowship and prayer beats stronger than ever in our chests. Zoom Bible studies and prayer sessions fill my evenings. Our communities have a level of empathy I haven’t seen before, a recognition that we are swaying inside the same boat, hoping we somehow reach the shores OK.
Recently, that first friend I mentioned, the social butterfly, invited a new friend into our weekly Bible study group. That woman is not a Christian, but she wanted to join a Bible study just to see what it was like. She comes from a dysfunctional family and cradles many wounds. To drown the pain, she said, she would go out drinking and partying. But now that she can’t do that, she’s stuck inside her room, unable to escape her torments.
“I now realize that I’ve only been numbing that pain with alcohol, but I need something more,” she told us. She was raised nominally Catholic and has a Bible that she rarely opened. Now she hungers to read it and understand it. She’s reading the book of Psalms.
We all prayed out loud for her over Zoom. We also shared the individual struggles we’re going through and prayed for each other to seek the still, small voice of God during this season of silence and solitude—a forced season, yes, but a sweet one nonetheless. By the end of this pandemic, may we all stand transformed, and may many more voices worship the name of Jesus.
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