What has changed for you over the last few weeks? Jay Webster, Bob and Shari’s son, teaches at Sage Middle School, and obviously he’s been in a different mode these days since his classes have moved out of the classroom to distance education. Keri, his sister, was sharing that he was grateful that he had been able to spend so much time with his newborn daughter and her brother. For those of you who have been teachers, you know that you often end up spending a lot of time with other people’s kids, and not so much your own. Jay realized that even with the challenges presented to his occupation, there was a blessing laced into the situation, too.
This is more than just trying to put a positive spin on things. The old Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes implies that what we cannot have, isn’t really worth having—sour grapes, so to speak. And trying to find blessings in our present situation may seem like a positive corollary to the fable, looking at what we have and saying it’s great, whether it really is or not. We’re just making the best of things. And—to be honest—we are doing a little bit of that these days. There’s plenty of stuff that’s really hard to put a gloss on: people out of work, struggling to pay their bills; families distanced from each other, separated when they need to be together; limitations on what we can do and where we can go; vulnerable people at greater risk. But there’s more than just “getting through the situation” going on. There’s plenty of genuine blessing, too.
We’ve had to do a lot less laundry these days, which has been kind of nice. We’ve learned how to prepare more meals—some have turned out pretty well, too. Most of us have saved money on gas, since we’re not taking a trip to the store at the drop of a hat. In fact, I’d suspect that most of us have been able to spend a little less these days. And we’ve probably had a chance to question our connection to the consumerist society we’re a part of—while it’s disconcerting to see all the people who are suffering financially because of the stay-at-home orders, this time is a legitimate time to consider what we really want to spend our resources on.
Some of us, those who are staying home with others, are able to spend more time with our loved ones than we may have been able to in the past. Families, many of whom were caught on a treadmill of trying to keep up with the societal expectations, have had to slow down and be together. No more of the extracurricular stuff that seemed to be so important at the time. We’ve had to reexamine our expectations. All of us have had to readjust our priorities regarding being together. We’re being forced to look at our hearts and what we really value. And for those who cannot be with the ones they love, we may be able in this time to recommit to being present—on the phone or through the window right now, and maybe more frequently face to face when the situation allows.
In three short verses in his 6th chapter, the prophet Micah discusses priorities and expectations. The first point that Micah makes is that we do not live for ourselves—that our personal gratification and desires aren’t the beginning and end. In verse 6, there’s this unspoken understanding that God is present in all our circumstances, and that God requires something from us, a response, an interaction. If God is, and if God is who God is, then there is a response, a requirement demanded from us. And we share this conviction with Micah—we believe in the Holy One, and we believe that the Holy One desires something of us.
But Micah wants us to understand that what God requires of us isn’t found in the superficial material offerings that we might make, but in behaving the way God wants us to behave. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Stepping off the merry-go-round of our culture of excess should give us a better vision of justice—who are the ones who need protection and advocates, who are the vulnerable and why are they vulnerable? How can we participate in protecting them? Our English translations use the words “kindness” and “mercy” for the Hebrew chesed—which is described most frequently in the Old Testament as “lovingkindness” and is what God has for His people. To love this lovingkindness, this “God-characteristic,” is to embrace the nature of God. It is an active love, not an emotional disposition—love shown in kind and merciful behavior. So how has the current situation offered us opportunities to show that we value chesed—lovingkindness? And humility: having our societal wings clipped, and needing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community, well these may challenge our pride. All the demands to be free to assemble and do what we want—even from religious institutions—may more likely be fueled by ego than righteousness, particularly since there are other reasonable options. Do we walk humbly when we demand our liberty at the expense of others?
I suspect the deepest benefit found in our situation is the dissonance it creates. We’ve been forced out of established patterns, and we’ve had to adjust. When we’re forced to adjust, we have to make decisions about what’s important. And, for the people of God, we have another chance to shuck off the entanglements of the world, and embrace what is good. We have another chance to do what the Lord requires of us. Be creative—find new ways to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly. Then, once we’ve come through the crisis, we will have built new patterns, better behaviors, and the crisis will have served as an opportunity, and a blessing. We know what to do, so let’s do it.