Like millions around the world, I have been recently confronted with the reality and implications of COVID-19, as our usually predictable lives are turned upside down and the world feels just a bit off. My own life being blessedly simple to begin with, I settled quickly into a (more) hermit-like routine of working from home, and have watched and pondered as individuals, nations, and the world try to adjust to a new and sometimes alarming reality.
Obviously, the primary concern in everyone’s mind is health and safety, of themselves, their children, their parents. But even for those untouched by the virus itself, there will be challenges ahead. Starting last week, millions were told to stay home, finding themselves suddenly casually or officially isolated as work, schools, events and public spaces were shut down.
Collectively, we can probably handle an outbreak. Individually, most of us can, God willing, probably handle an illness. But can we handle weeks (or months) without our usual activities, responsibilities and distractions that usually provide structure to our lives? Can we handle unexpected solitude, or conversely intense “being together?”
It came to my mind that this will be, in a sense, an “accidental Lent” for many people – believers and nonbelievers alike. Lent traditionally is a time to remove that which distracts us, to see ourselves in our sinfulness and brokenness. Lent is a time to examine ourselves – and then turn towards God.
This outbreak has placed us in a new world, outside of the context by which we often define ourselves. Human beings have a remarkable ability for hiding – both from ourselves and from each other. We often base our identities on our jobs, roles, recreations, schedules and relationships. A loss of these frameworks is like a loss of the foundations of our lives.
And now, thanks to COVID-19, this “uprooting” has happened en masse. Our structure and – in some sense, our security – is gone. We will face, in an unprecedented way, ourselves.
People will, of course, seek distraction. No doubt, Netflix subscriptions will soar and Internet providers will struggle to keep up. But even that can only go so far – as days turn into weeks, perhaps some will stop to ask why they need so much distraction. Perhaps there will be space for silence in the absence of our usual frenetic schedules.
For families and households with people working from home and children not at school, there may seem to be too much time together. It will be intensely difficult for some, and will demand work and creativity to survive, let alone to thrive.
But, perhaps, there will be rediscovery of “the other.” Perhaps there will be a chance truly to be together – as there is nowhere else to be.
Only God knows what this accidental Lent will look like for each of us. Whether experiencing intense and unfamiliar solitude, or struggling to cope in a small home with stir-crazy children, there will be grace. Grace to stand still in the confusion and uncertainty. Grace to rediscover those closest to us. Grace, perhaps, to face ourselves just as we are, and grace to find the One who loves us just as we are.