Eyes to See Beyond My Borders
This is Chapter 2 of Discovering Joy, a devotional-style quarantine diary I'm posting chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)
The coronavirus started as someone else's problem. It was tragic, certainly, but things that do not touch close to home do not bear the same emotional weight as those which interrupt our lives. As the murmurs from China grew into cries of deep distress, and as the virus raised voices all across Europe, I began to feel a little more the heaviness of the world's need. But still, an ocean separated me from the reality.
But the ocean was only a plane flight away. Cases began emerging in the states, and with them the firestorm of responses on social media.
"This is being blown out of proportion!"
"We're not taking this seriously enough."
"People die from the flu every year."
"This flu is different!"
"It only preys on the weak and compromised."
"How many weak and compromised people do you know?"
Memes and videos both funny and irreverent. Fights on Facebook about the severity of the virus. Questions about whether it's a hoax or a conspiracy. People writing about the lack of toilet paper and debunking myths about how to avoid the virus. Honestly, to me it felt like more of the same wrangling I'd seen over political issues as the election year ramped up.
The first case of the virus in our area rippled through my community like the first chill of an ill body. More cases began to emerge. Someone I knew went into quarantine because they had been exposed to one of the cases. Others I knew began to work from home and avoid our usual church groups.
As a stay-at-home wife, it didn't truly hit me until I walked into the supermarket and saw bare shelves and masked faces, and felt the fear weighing on the air like the still pressure that builds just before a storm. I had never seen people so frightened before, not even after 9-11. When the two World Trade towers fell, there was a sense of camaraderie against a common enemy that we could see, that we could send our brave men and women to do something about. We could be close. We could cry together.
This? This was an invisible enemy that could be carried into your home by your best friend. This was an enemy that, if you faced it, you ultimately had to face alone. Yes, the doctors could offer allies in your fight--ventilators, medications, and the like--but in the end, the fight's outcome was determined by your own body's internal defenses. At a time when we wanted most to be close to one another, we had to scatter.
Overnight, our community was separated by six feet and a contagion of fear.
The first day that our church met via livestream and we could not gather as a people, I sobbed big gulping, broken sobs. My husband Paul did not even need an explanation. He knew the reason and I saw in his expression the same grief, even if unaccompanied by tears.
Being unable to attend church was not new to me, because my seizures do not always schedule themselves for weekdays, but it was a grief every time it happened. Still, there was always a comfort in knowing that, for everyone else, worship was proceeding as it should.
Now, out of necessity for our own protection, we were all in this solitary confinement.
Do not get me wrong: As this quarantine continues, my gratitude overflows for technologies that allow us to see and hear one another regardless of distance, and for the people who know how to bring church straight into my living room. And when this is all that I can have, I cling to it the way a woman clings to a picture of her beloved who has gone to war.
Yet, despite the consolation, the loss pierces keenly.
The coronavirus is no longer someone else's problem. It is mine. It is my unborn daughter's. It is my husband's. It is my church's and my community's and my nation's and my world's. So many problems are specific to nation or race or gender or some other designation of difference. But this virus is a problem affecting the whole world and now... now I suddenly have eyes that see beyond my own personal borders.
It is strangely apropos that this global consciousness arose immediately in the wake of my church's study of the global body of Christ, in both our missions month activities and our conclusion of the True Community Sunday School class that Paul taught for a few weeks.
In True Community, Jerry Bridges writes about the objective reality of our communion with Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Our union with Christ is an objective fact that is true whether we realize it or not. It is also true that, to a degree, we experience the fruit of that union apart from any conscious effort on our part.
Because of the objective reality of our union with Christ, we have union--expressed by the Greek word koinonia--with every other person in union with Christ. The word koinonia is translated as "sharing a common life," with implications of fellowship, community in action together, and close personal and spiritual communion. Mr. Bridges continues:
This vertical aspect of fellowship (union and communion with God) provides both the foundation and the pattern for the horizontal aspect (fellowship among believers)... Koinonia expresses a relationship all believers have together in Christ without regard to their geographical location... All the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member... None of us has the spiritual wherewithal to "go it alone" in our Christian lives. Spiritual fellowship is not a luxury but a necessity, vital to our spiritual growth and health.
There is so much more in this jewel of a book, but each paragraph and chapter builds on the concept that every true believer is not alone.
We are connected to every believer who has gone before us. After recounting the "Hall of Faith" and the many believers who lived in both the Old and the New Testaments, we read:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith... (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Likewise, we are connected to every believer who is a contemporary to us:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)
For years, the stories of missionaries and other believers around the globe were interesting, but not crucial, to me. Of course, in theory, I understood that they were my brothers and sisters in Christ and that I had a stake in their welfare and they had a stake in mine, but without actual names and faces and relationship, it was easy to forget them.
When Paul and I were dating, I knew that he was going through seminary to gain licensure and ordination as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America. As I considered the possibility of being his wife, we talked about what life could look like as either a pastoral couple or a missionary couple. Suddenly, the very real possibility of living in Africa brought my awareness to the global church. Every story from missionaries or believers--anywhere in the world--became startlingly relevant to me. I needed to know every reality of that life.
Then I developed a chronic condition involving non-epileptic seizures, periods of paralysis, and chronic pain, and Paul and I realized that now was not the time to explore overseas options. Clearly, the Lord was keeping us on US shore for the time being, and we would be faithful to walk out the next step in His plan. In the meantime, however, my sense of connection to the global church waned as my eyes turned again to my own borders.
Then the True Community class reignited this understanding that, regardless of my feelings on the matter, I was connected to every other believer on the planet in an objective reality based on our mutual connection to Christ. He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5), which means we were all interconnected in ways we could not even fathom.
This reminder was followed by our church's Missions Month--yes, we devote the entire month of March to connecting with the global church and the missions our church supports specifically. Once again, I felt deeply moved by the stories of real people working in the same spiritual harvest as I was, but in places so diverse I couldn't even pronounce some of them. Many of them might not have faces or names that I can connect to, but they are my siblings, in a bond forged by blood and grace. And the people they serve are not "other people out there in the world," but men, women, and children with the same essential human hopes, fears, and natures that people here in my neighborhood have.
Here I am in Virginia, connected by a virus to every other human on this planet because we are all equally vulnerable. This problem that was first a "China problem" is now a world problem, a human problem.
If I can be connected by a virus to every other human on the planet, how much more so is the Holy Spirit in my heart connected to every other true believer who also carries that same mark of eternal life?
I am grateful that my eyes are being opened to the things beyond the borders of my own personal space. This world is my Father's world, and I do not want to miss what He is doing in it.
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None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.