It isn't explanations we need. It's a person. We need Jesus Christ, our refuge, our fortress, the stronghold of my life. It takes desolation to teach us our need of Him.Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing
I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic, Love in the Time of Cholera, probably twenty years ago now. I don't remember many specifics other than that I loved it and that a character fell off a ladder early on in the story and died. There was something about a parrot too. Regardless of my poor memory, the book's title has repeatedly come to mind these past four months as life has so drastically changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have found ourselves in our very own "time of cholera." Temporarily, life as we know it has come to a standstill and morphed into an almost unrecognizable version of itself. In many ways, it feels as though we've stepped into another dimension where mask-wearing is hotly debated, we can't go to the hair salon, church services are drastically altered or stopped altogether, our temperatures are checked at the door, and going to Ikea or Target is a full-on production. And yet, here we are–still breathing, still raising children, still earning a living, still wiping bottoms and mopping floors and making decisions. We are still having to find a way to do life against the backdrop of the coronavirus.
We have sold and bought a home in the time of corona. We have separated from the military and left behind all our friends and family to move to a new state in the time of corona. We have begun new careers and shockingly decided to homeschool in the time of corona. And we have also gotten sick in the time of corona.
My daughter and I became ill the day after schools in Colorado shut down. The kids all got it and never became very sick, but I struggled. It was unsettling. At times, I felt panicked. The news headlines and case-number trackers and social media platforms only fueled my anxiety, and the burning and heaviness in my chest portended disaster.
When I took a turn for the worse and was at my weakest, when I was having a hard time breathing and the pressure in my lungs was terrible, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I'm considered high risk for a poor Covid-19 outcome, or so I was warned. Would I end up in the hospital on a ventilator? Would my next breath be the last full breath I'd ever take? I didn't want to go to the ER but feared I would need to if I didn't improve. My husband monitored my oxygen levels, which remained good, and I prayed–for help and for healing. And in the span of a few hours on my scariest day, God did something rather miraculous. With my eyes closed, I envisioned the worst–going to the hospital, being admitted, and eventually passing away alone in a sterile room. God walked me through it all. I imagined my husband and children having to go on without me. No, the Lord did not heal me, but He did something remarkable nonetheless. He took away my fear. It sort of fell to the ground like bothersome pine needles brushed off a chair.
Instead of fear or worry, all I felt was peace. I knew without question that I would be going home, at last, to be with my Lord and that He would nurture my family and see His will for my children accomplished. I can describe it no better than to say God whispered it directly to my heart. The sickness might continue to hurt, my lungs would perhaps slowly give way entirely, but the blessed assurance that Jesus was mine gave me absolute comfort. To live is Christ, and to die is gain, and there was nothing to fear in death. The promise of God's perfect love cast out all fear of suffering, all fear of dying, all fear for my family.
I stayed in that bed for the rest of the day and the next and tried to breathe. I still did not know what might happen, but I was trusting God with the outcome, and there was no doubt that He was with me. I was able to rest.
And I improved. I never did go to the hospital, and as I've thought back on this experience, I've realized more fully how Jesus met me and helped me, how near He was in that sick bed with me, comforting me each moment. What a gift He'd given me! And in that gift, there was far more than I'd initially understood. Because with the banishment of my fear came the understanding that these truths He'd revealed in sickness applied at all times. As His child, there really was nothing to fear. Ever. Period. Full stop.
This, this is the difference Christ makes. And this is the essential thing Christians have to share during a pandemic and a time of crisis. Assurance. Courage. Love. These stand in tremendous contrast to the message the world is currently broadcasting: Be afraid, be very afraid. You are right to be scared. You should be scared. You aren't nearly scared enough.
But Jesus has wonderfully different words for us. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not look to the right or to the left. Do not be terrified. I will be with you wherever you go. Be wise. Be loving. Lay down your life that you may pick up true, everlasting life and eternal blessing. I haven't done an exhaustive study, but as far as I can recall, most of the times when God is commanding someone in the Bible to not be afraid, it is because the natural response to the circumstance would be just that. He doesn't say it because the situation isn't scary. He says it because the specific situation does nothing to change the unshakeable truth of His presence and nearness or His ability to see His will done.
God's commandments are the same during a pandemic as they are otherwise: love Him, love others. We are to show people the power of Christ in us, the very hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)! This is the hope we offer the world–reconciliation with the Lord of the universe, a personal relationship with Jesus, true spiritual awakening, knowledge of what becomes of us when we die, goodness and mercy despite circumstances, our rootedness in Christ, and peace like a river–peace that flows and froths and pours over rapids, that does not stop, that brings life wherever it flows. He is our anchor, our foundation, solid ground and a house of stone, shelter from the storm, immoveable and unchangeable. The anchor holds, no matter how violently the seas toss the ship on the surface of the waters.
Yes, my anchor held, and what a remarkable experience that was. A life-changing experience, to be sure–not because I recovered but because I knew my faith was true. Because when I feared my illness might end in death, I turned toward my God and not away, and He was with me to save me, into His arms or out of the fire–at the time I did not know which. And He is always with me in just this same way. With Jesus, death will always be a reward and a homecoming–something to anticipate rather than to dread. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? The Author of life has destroyed you and won us the victory.
And God's love looks the same as it always has–self-sacrificing, outward-focused, bold, active, merciful, full of grace and truth, faithful. And so this is how my love during this time of the coronavirus should look as well. What an opportunity to put the power of Christ in us on display for all to see! The light shines (brightly, brightest!) in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). Only in Christ do we trade our ashes for crowns of beauty, our fear for hope, and our apathy for love.
I continue to experience side-effects from the virus, but for all intents and purposes, I have recovered. I received God's love directly through the ministering of His Holy Spirit who lives inside me and also through the care and help of His church who called me, prayed for me, checked on me, somehow got me zinc when it was sold out everywhere, bought me orchids, and sent me encouraging messages. Oh, how I miss gathering with God's people! And oh, for the first time since becoming a Christian, do I sincerely appreciate what a sweet gift that fellowship is.
I don't believe that a single one of us has enjoyed the recent and constant reminder that we are not in control, that life is fleeting, that in it is much suffering and unfairness, but perhaps it's just the reminder we've needed. C.S. Lewis wrote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Surely, there are gospel inroads possible now that were unavailable before the coronavirus made its ghastly appearance. Surely, many Americans have their own mortality on their minds as never before and are searching for answers and meaning.
In God's commandments, we find our normalcy and our permanent marching orders. We don't let fear run the show. Fear is not our master. God is. And He did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7) –power (like His) to press on and suffer long and love (like His) that is active and self-sacrificing and steady. This affliction is light and momentary and is producing in us an immeasurable and eternal weight of glory. We do not lose heart. Our inner spirits are being renewed each and every day, even though our bodies may be dying, may be coughing and decaying (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). We count it all joy as we encounter these tests of our faith, because they produce in us spiritual fruit that comes no other way–that perseverance and character we covet (James 1:2-3).
We can all feel it, the uncomfortable molding and shaping occurring now as we wait, that velvet vice holding us in place as the Master's hands remove the thorns and pluck from our branches the rotten fruit–that in us which has become unlike Christ, that which is poisonous and harmful in our lives. He is snapping His fingers in our faces, shouting at us to wake up, to be alert, to take stock of our spiritual health.
I have stopped following the coronavirus numbers. What difference do they make to what is truly important in life? I still have to disciple my children. I still have to feed my family. I still have to serve others whenever and wherever I can. I still need to pray. I still need to worship. I still need to read God's Word. The world looks different, but my mission in it is unchanged.
We do not have all the answers and solutions to this public health situation–but, like Peter, we must offer what we do have to the hurting. The name of Jesus–His power and love and presence to a world drowning in confusion, fear, pain, and hopelessness. He is the only anchor that holds.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.1 Corinthians 15:58