You know how it is. Every once in a while, something gets stuck in your brain, and you can’t dislodge it. Often, it’s a fragment of a song that you hum to yourself over and over again. And if someone asks you how you got stuck on that song, your answer will probably be, “Haven’t a clue.”
These days, what’s stuck in my brain is the title of a classic novel by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera. Don’t ask me why. But it makes me think that someone may one day write a book called Hope in the Time of COVID.
Cheesy title? Maybe. Relevant content? Absolutely.
True confessions: when I first started devoting my Sunday posts to writing specifically about hope, I didn’t really think coronavirus would spread as far as it has or wreak such collateral havoc.
I understood the threat (or at least I thought I did) and have always supported and followed the public health directives that have been issued in its wake. My wife and I have been more than careful in guarding ourselves and our home against the virus.
But I cringe a little to read the first post in the series, where I trot out influenza statistics from the past two years. The subtext, although I don’t say it directly, is, “Look how horrible these numbers are! Surely this COVID thing isn’t going to get that bad, is it?”
Well, it has, Sherlock. And then some.
Hindsight, as they say, is better than foresight; what seems obvious now, in retrospect, wasn’t so obvious then. Live and learn.
If some intrepid investigative journalist ever writes such a book, I would want it to be filled with stories of people transcending the crisis through faithful, loving, and practical action. Ed Stetzer, for example, blogging for Christianity Today, reported some of the many and varied ways churches have been reaching out to their communities. Some efforts are large scale, as in megachurches providing food for hundreds of local families. But the simple things being done by caring individuals are no less heartwarming, as in the teenager who had just scored some precious toilet paper handing it over to an unemployed stranger and then praying for her on the spot.
This is hope, embodied and made real. This has been central to the identity of the church from the first century onward: believers extending hospitality to the needy and forgotten, sometimes at risk to themselves. Not even the rules of social distancing can prevent creative believers from finding a way.
We must, of course, continue to preach the gospel whatever way we can. In recent months, pastors and their staffs have shown enormous energy and creativity in getting their worship and preaching online, reaching through the isolation with words of comfort and hope. At the same time, we must remember that nothing cements the message about Jesus like actively embodying the compassion and hospitality of Jesus to others.
I never thought I’d say this, but it just may be that in the time of COVID, nothing says good news quite like a family pack of toilet paper.
What are your stories of hope and encouragement? Take a break from reading statistical updates on the spread of the contagion, and try getting stories of faith and hope stuck in your brain instead.