5 Lessons from a Pandemic Year

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

It was the week of Friday, the 13th, March 2020. My teacher friends were posting memes that read: “This week has a time change, a super full moon, and Friday the 13th. I’m a teacher. The Coronavirus doesn’t scare me.” I chuckled. But I had to admit: I also was nervous.

We received the announcement that Thursday that our school would close for three weeks the following Monday. Our church also decided to hold off on services for three Sundays, with the goal of meeting again on Palm Sunday.

It seemed crazy. Prior to this, our church had only occasionally missed a Sunday due to snow or ice. School children and teachers were accustomed to a few days off each year as well. But we had never before closed schools and churches for three whole weeks.

It’s now been a year. Could any of us have guessed, when all this started, that we would still be facing the wrath of the Coronavirus a year later?

Spring, summer, fall, and now winter—we’ve missed four seasons of “normal” life. Instead, we’ve lived through 12 months of shutdowns, job loss, quarantines, face masks, and fear. We’ve dealt with work from home, online worship, virtual school, and Zoom fatigue. We’ve watched case number reports on the nightly news and tried to process the unfathomable death toll. Just one year ago, we never could have imagined over half a million of our fellow Americans gone due to this invisible threat.

Looking back, it’s easy to focus on all we’ve lost. To be sure, many have faced life-changing and devastating losses. As Christians, being sensitive and offering support to those who’ve lost livelihoods or loved ones should be a top priority.

For those of us who’ve experienced a more general sense of loss—of sadness, frustration, and fear—we might instead ask what God is trying to teach us. When this pandemic is over, could the losses we encountered have been lessons intended to help us grow? And through growing, have we actually gained?

There are likely numerous ways we’ve learned, grown, and gained. Here are five that I’ve witnessed in my own life and church community:

1. We’re grateful for what we once took for granted.

Remember when? From picnics to parties, coffee dates to concerts, and hugs with loved ones to smiles from strangers, we didn’t realize how blessed we were. At church, we took communion together, passed the peace through a handshake or embrace, sang in the choir, and enjoyed in-person fellowship over coffee and meals together.

While it’s easy to see these as losses during the pandemic, instead, we can recall these precious moments from our pre-pandemic past with gratitude. When we once again are afforded these blessings, we will appreciate them more deeply and give thanks to God. We have learned that what we thought were ordinary happenings were actually very extraordinary blessings.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

2. We’re satisfied with less.

We learned that basic needs and frivolous wants are two different things. Production lines with fewer workers resulted in fewer choices at the grocery store. With shopping malls closed for a time, we avoided spending money on the latest fashion trends and slipped into the comfort of our sweats and yoga pants instead. We “made do” with the rooms in our homes and found fresh ways to arrange the space to accommodate children and working parents.

Our church body also learned that we could live with less. As some members lost jobs and income, the church receipts dropped as well. Building costs, program costs, and overall expenses also dropped. While this wasn’t the way any of us chose to worship and grow as a church, we discovered the Spirit can move through personal and communal prayer, online Bible studies, and virtual fellowship; and in so doing, can satisfy our deepest needs.

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:2

3. We cherish community and grieve disconnection.

During the height of our fears, our family was thankful to be together. Our two college daughters moved back home, and although there was a time of adjustment, we learned to live and work together and were thankful for this “bonus” time together as a family.

Our church family had the opposite experience in that we were forced into physical separation. Many members took every opportunity to connect virtually, and the closeness of that community has grown stronger. But others remain close to us only in spirit, as we pray for them and wonder if they will join us when we can worship together again. We’ve learned that God’s people were meant to be together in bringing about his kingdom and that we depend on each other for our spiritual growth.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

4. We appreciate the great outdoors and God’s creation.

The one “safe” place the medical experts have identified is in the open air. Outdoor activities are good for our bodies and souls, and as a family, we relished them more this year than in the past. We fished, swam, and kayaked at the lake. We took hikes, bike rides, and autumn color tours. The beauty of the changing seasons reminded us that God was still in control.

Our church family began meeting outdoors in mid-summer. Even with mild distractions of noisy mufflers, distant sirens, and low-flying airplanes, we delighted in warm breezes that rustled tree leaves and reminded us the Spirit was present. The sun warmed us on cooler days while the shade protected us when the sun grew too hot. Small groups met around campfires during mild weather, and several families, bundled up, gathered just days before Christmas to sing carols around portable fire pits. We saw God’s provision for all of our needs as we experienced the wonders of his creation.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

5. We accept that God's timing is not our timing.

When our personal lives were put on hold for three weeks last March, we never expected a year later we would still be in a holding pattern. And yet, we have moved forward. As individuals, families, and church bodies, each month we’ve turned another page on the calendar. We’ve found new ways to live, learn, work, and worship. We’ve prayed for a vaccine and for a downturn in case numbers and deaths.

God, in his own time, is answering those prayers. The vaccinations have begun. The numbers are dropping. We have learned to rely on and trust in a God who is bigger than our calendars, our plans, and our earthly dreams. If we believe he holds the world in his hands, we must also trust in His timing. We have no need to fear. No need to doubt that God is in control.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

Taking on a new perspective, we see that God can turn our losses into learning and our growth into gains. In the midst of a pandemic, we’ve practiced gratitude. Found satisfaction. Connected with others. Met God in creation. And learned to trust in him and his perfect timing.

As our lives slowly return to “normal,” let’s pray it’s a new normal, filled with the insights and blessings we have gained.

About the Author

Linda L. Hanstra writes about faith, empty-nesting, and other topics at lindahanstra.com. She works as a Speech-Language Pathologist in Edwardsburg, Mich. She and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Ind.

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