By Matthew Watts
Self-isolation. Social distancing. I understood these terms without needing an explanation. But I am not sure I heard them before the coronavirus crisis began. Now I hear daily of people I know cutting themselves off from everyday life because of possible coronavirus symptoms. Yesterday that was my sister and a police officer friend in my city.
Isolation — self-imposed or not — fundamentally changes the way we think, feel and behave as humans. Introverts and extroverts are both designed for relationship. So something that interrupts the way we normally conduct relationships, on such a global scale, touches our core identity in all sorts of ways.
Some people were already terribly lonely, or lacked loving relationships, before anyone told them they had to self-isolate or distance themselves from others for a certain number of days. Others had recently lost loved ones and felt a hole in their life before they had to distance themselves from people who would normally comfort them.
Social distancing, so unprecedented for most of us, also raises questions for the Christian community about how we do life differently during a global crisis like this.
What Christians Expect of Themselves and Each Other
Christians often feel like the eyes of the world are on us during times of crisis. How should you respond to a national tragedy or a natural disaster? Are you expected to be bold, when others are afraid or anxious? Is this a test of your faith with everyone watching? I hear conflicting answers to those questions, and I am not going to answer them here because I think there are other ways to respond during this time.
MissionHub was created to help Christians who want to be intentional about building deeper relationships with people. That might be someone you know who has yet to discover what it means to know Jesus, or another Christian who wants to take more steps of faith. The app is designed to help Christians work together to achieve our common goal of communicating and demonstrating the message of Jesus.
In the last few days my wife and I have busily prepared for normal life shutting down for we don’t know how long. I have asked myself what this means for the way I normally try to live on mission. Maybe that is a question you are asking too.
There is no rule or single answer to that question. So perhaps it is better to think in terms of what we can do, rather than what we should do.
I sat in church yesterday, not knowing it would be our final gathering for the time being. The reality hit me that the coronavirus poses a threat not just to our health, but to our universal need for meaningful connection with others.
Self-isolation and social distancing are becoming the necessary “new normal” in our communities. Yet this is also a moment when taking steps of faith to truly love our neighbors will mean more to them than ever before.
One reality of physical separation is that connecting digitally will become more essential and life-giving than ever before. The term “social media” now carries greater weight for the way we will do life in this moment.
Thinking about how to respond as a Christian to this crisis may make you feel guilty about your own anxieties and fears. If you find yourself feeling as though Christians with real faith are free from anxiety and fear, please release yourself from that condemnation right now. Love for God and others is our best source of motivation, not shame.
You need to take precautions, prepare, and think about how to care for yourself and the people closest to you, just like everyone else. Remember, wisdom is a fruit of the Spirit too.
Simple Steps of Faith for a Complicated Moment
As you spend time talking with God, focus on handing your anxieties over to Him. In my experience that is a daily ritual, not a one-time deal. Then you can also ask Him what He wants you to do now as a follower of Jesus in the context He has placed you.
Here are four simple steps of faith MissionHub suggests you can take during the coronavirus crisis. We hope they are helpful to you. Our Communities exist to support you in being part of whatever God is doing wherever you are.
It is likely that more people than normal are praying at a time like this. That probably includes the people in your life.
People who would not normally describe themselves as having faith may turn to God — or “god” as they understand the term — because things feel out of control. They are seeking comfort and a sense of peace.
As you pray, ask God to show you the following things:
- Who specifically can I demonstrate Your love to during this crisis?
- What are ways I can practically serve those people or support them emotionally during their time of self-isolation?
- Who can I offer to pray for or with, either in person or digitally?
If it helps you be intentional about responding to what God says, create a prayer step of faith in MissionHub and set yourself a reminder.
When the coronavirus passes, people who struggled most with the isolation of this time will remember the people who remembered them.
Public services are being stretched to their limits in every nation and city affected by the coronavirus. But at the same time we hear stories of communities finding creative ways to stand in the gaps for one another. There are practical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs we can help meet, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hopefully your church is mobilizing resources to serve your community right now. Also, if you consume digital content regularly you have probably already received ideas for serving others in need at this time. Here is a COVID-19 checklist for followers of Jesus that I found helpful.
The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22–24 also provides a great checklist of what I hope people in my life experience as they connect with me during this time.
MissionHub thinks in terms of taking steps of faith with the people in your life. So here are some steps that will demonstrate you care about someone.
- Make more phone calls in addition to the messages you normally send
- Focus on someone you think is more likely to struggle with isolation
- Anticipate the needs of others and offer to help before they ask for it
You might have people in your life who are skeptical about faith or seem to be suspicious of the motives of Christians. This is a time to demonstrate that you care about them because you care about them, not just because it might open a door to the conversation you long to have about God.
But we are trusting God to use us in powerful ways during this time, as we always do. So how can we share our faith with sensitivity and authenticity during the coronavirus crisis?
As Christians we believe God places us in relationships with specific people, at specific times and in specific contexts. Our workplaces, colleges, neighborhoods, and the schools where our kids go — these are just some of the places we regularly see the same people. Although we are being required to withdraw from those environments in the coming days, we do not have to withdraw from all those relationships.
Digital tools and channels will help us continue talking with others. But we need to think wisely about what we will share with people.
MissionHub is built around the idea that everyone is on a spiritual journey, even someone who does not believe in Jesus. The journey will not stop because of the coronavirus. In fact, this may be a life-changing point in that journey for many people.
So how will you share your faith in a way that demonstrates empathy and sensitivity?
- Share your fears and concerns as well as where you find peace and hope
- Avoid telling those who believe in God how they should be feeling
- Be mindful that describing this crisis as an “evangelistic opportunity” in public or on social media will sound insensitive to some people
Some people have negative perceptions of how and why Christians develop relationships with people who do not share our faith. They are suspicious of the agenda behind our interactions. We need to be aware that people who hold that perspective will be especially sensitive to the language we use about our relationships at a time like this.
But, it is also quite possible that someone you know will ask you how your faith shapes the way you are experiencing this crisis. So if God gives you an opportunity to help someone discover how to have a relationship with Him, looking at one of the presentations in the GodTools app together helps guide that type of conversation.
Being full of faith as a Christian does not mean being immune to the emotions other people experience at a time like this. The Bible tells us to cast our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). So the presumption is that we will have anxieties just like everyone else.
Churches are making the same difficult decisions as schools, restaurants, cafes and other public places. We can talk to people who do not share our faith, both in terms of our common experiences as well as the different ways our beliefs shape how those experiences affect us.
This is a moment when everyone’s senses are heightened by the stresses of the situation. I am part of WhatsApp chats for my kids’ school and my son’s soccer team. As I read the message threads I see some people honestly expressing their concerns, while others, perhaps as a defense mechanism, dismiss them as hysteria.
So how can you be confident that people hear what you truly mean to communicate as a Christian?
How Christians communicate with each other and with people outside our faith community during the coronavirus pandemic can either help people hear the heart of Jesus or leave us sounding tone deaf.
Here are steps you can take to continue building relationships of trust with the people in your life.
- Listen more than you talk
- Ask open and meaningful questions
- Beware of sounding like your thoughts are a judgement on someone else’s
- Pause and pray before you send a message or post on social media, and resist the urge to react to everything you read
Moments of crisis have the potential to either isolate us from one another, or connect and bond us more deeply, in ways we never forget. I experienced that firsthand thanks to one hurricane, two trucks and a few good men in Florida.
My family and I lived in Orlando when Hurricane Irma struck. Unlike in places like Haiti and Puerto Rico, the hurricane did little lasting damage to people or property in our area. The anticipation and impending threat is what my kids remember. But the days running up to the Sunday when Irma passed through our neighborhood provided memories I never want to forget.
As some people evacuated and others bought supplies and boarded up homes, my family and I struggled to know what to do. We are from the United Kingdom and had never lived through a hurricane of this magnitude. As a dad, I feared that everyone else was preparing well and making the necessary decisions, while I was leaving my family exposed.
I waited too long to buy the wood panels for boarding up the windows — even if I had known how to do that, which I did not. But then my friends Eric and Anthony arrived with a neighbor of theirs whom I had never seen before nor have I seen since. Seeing my need, they drove around with their trucks and gathered leftover wood. Then with the few remaining hours before everyone needed to be indoors, isolated from one another, they boarded up three sides of my home, creating a bunker for our family. My home was one of several they boarded up that day, not to mention their own homes. My kids slept soundly in our closet as the storm passed by.
Connection with others is very deeply felt when you are afraid of being isolated. You never forget someone who is present for you when you feel most alone.
The MissionHub team will be praying for our community during the coronavirus crisis. God has a perfect plan for this moment, as He does for every moment.
As we focus on staying connected to the people God has placed in our lives, we can help them connect with Him.
Some Final Words of Truth
I love what it says in Ephesians 3:20-21 in “The Message”:
“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”
Originally published on the MissionHub app’s blog as “Covid-19: How Will You Connect In A Time of Self-Isolation?”. MissionHub is developed by Cru’s Digital Strategies team and helps followers of Jesus take steps of faith with the people in their lives. Cru is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.