Looking Out for One Another
I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon in the past few weeks. During this frightening time of COVID-19, uncertainty seems to have altered how people respond to each other.
This is not a commentary about which political figure is doing the most to provide needed help and encouragement in our current circumstances. Nor is it a scientific analysis of which expert is the most knowledgeable and trustworthy to guide us through to the (hopefully) other side of this pandemic. Rather, what I have noticed is that people who would ordinarily meet another person in the grocery aisle, nod, and perhaps say hello, are now averting their eyes, holding their breath, and exhibiting fear of the other. Often, we are wearing face masks so that a smile is not visible even if it were to be offered.
Now, it is important at this time for people to resist spreading the virus or being carelessly vulnerable to receiving it from another person. We are appropriately encouraged to stay home and to physically distance from other people. But it feels as though people have become suspicious and fearful of others rather than trying to provide encouragement, support and the sense that we are all in this together.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NRSV). In these difficult days, we must necessarily “neglect to meet together” in order to best love and protect one another. But the question remains, how can we still practice love, good deeds, and mutual encouragement in these days of physical distancing?
As a pastor, I am acutely aware of all those people I am unable to visit: the woman whose daughter died of cancer this week; the person whose significant other is in late-stage hospice care; the man struggling with anxiety, whose job demands more of him while working from home; the elderly woman who celebrated her 95th birthday alone. I can call, pray, write notes, but I’m unable to provide a ministry of presence.
Still, in the year of our Lord, 2020, we do have opportunities which were not available in previous times: phone calls and texts, email, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc., in addition to snail mail. While not all are able to access internet and social media, we are still able to receive and reach out in more traditional ways.
But the question is, are we willing? Are we willing to reach beyond our own bubbles to look out for the other? I have always believed that one of the primary ways the Spirit works in us is by the power of suggestion and inspiration. So who comes to your mind as someone who could benefit from you picking up the phone? Who are you inspired to reach out and bless? Who has blessed you? This past Sunday, after the Facebook Live broadcast of our Palm Sunday worship service, a member of our congregation called to thank me, since it was the first service she was able to access a service since we ended in-person worship on March 15. I firmly believe the Spirit inspired her to call and bless me.
One of my fervent prayers is that when all is said and done in this pandemic, we followers of Christ will have become less self-focused and more other-focused; that we will have cared as much for the person in a country halfway around the world as for the person in our immediate sphere of relationships. In short, may we have learned how to better look out for one another. May God bless you all until that day.
—Rev. Lisa Vander Wal
Reformed Church in America
WCRC Vice President