Are You Suffering?

We sit alone in our homes, sequestrated in a time of uncertainty – self isolating during a global pandemic.

For weeks now the whole world seemed to grind to a complete halt. With access to a global news network we had information early on about the COVID-19 virus and it’s spread across the globe. We had daily updates at our fingertips as we learned of countries changing the way they live, of hospitals becoming overwhelmed and of countries shutting entirely down.

Then – it happened here.

There are no words to express what happened next because each of our stories are different. How I have experienced this pandemic so far is quite different than how you have. While you might not know anyone effected, someone else might know many. It’s a kaleidoscopic mixture of experiences fraught with emotional consequences. Who we are as people, as a nation and as the kingdom of God has been challenged.

We are no longer meeting together as we normally do. Work became remote. Places of business and worship closed their doors. The ways of connection and community shifted. The struggle to return to “normal” is fraught with unanswered questions and uncertainty.

Where will our focus be as we rotate the kaleidoscope of our lives and return to life?

Perhaps that answer lies in where your focus has been throughout this unprecedented time. What has been your experience? How exactly have you spent these months when the world stopped? I am sure there were moments of boredom, of worry, of sadness and even joy. What will be your take away from this pandemic experience?

For many, there will be suffering.

Suffering of lives lost. Suffering of families who lost a loved one and couldn’t say goodbye since they couldn’t go to the hospital. Suffering of people dying alone in hospitals. Suffering of elderly people in nursing homes around the country who can’t see loved ones. Suffering of men, woman, and children of all ages who got sick fighting for breath and searching for answers from inefficient testing and doctors doing the best they can to diagnose something so novel and new they were often shooting in the dark.

So much suffering.

Impoverished black men and women working in hospitals with no PPE. Women trapped at home with abusers, predators in their own home continuing a long cycle of abuse. Young girls and boys exploited and preyed upon by family members. Single Mom’s working hard to care for children when their self employment career offers no unemployment benefits. Homeless men, women and children remaining on the streets rather than going to a shelter.

Proms cancelled. Graduations ceremonies cancelled. Weddings cancelled. Anniversary celebrations shifted to Zoom meetings. Birthday parties celebrated by drive by parades. Family reunions, summer gatherings, business meetings, conventions, knitting groups, books clubs – so much we look forward too, changed.

We are a nation filled with people who are suffering. Real suffering. Some physical, but some also emotional and relational. As a nation and a people we strive to face the grief we are overwhelmed by as we mourn lives lost and lives changed. We are now facing harsh realities we can’t escape from. Loneliness and isolation cry out for us to return to normal to help ease not only our financial burdens but our relational one’s as well. We long for community and crave for a return to “normal.”

Is your heart open to see the suffering around you? When people are hurting in your own life, your families, your friends, your neighbors. How do you cope? In what ways are you walking in community with those who are hurting? Does your heart remain open or are you falling into a comparative suffering, comparing your experience and suffering to that of someone else?

We are in the midst of a global pandemic which may last for some time. Perhaps we will have spikes of increased cases as we ride this wave which could extend into next year or even longer. I hear and see the clamoring to get our lives back to normal and I have to pause and ask myself – what is “normal”?

In Matthew chapter 22 Jesus Christ was asked one of the deepest and richest questions of all time. In the midst of uncertainty when faced with all the miracles and teachings of Christ a Pharisee, who is a religious teacher, asked Jesus,“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 36-40)

If there is one thing we can learn from Jesus is that all the Messianic Law and Prophets written before Jesus walked the earth could be summed up in these few verses. Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as you love yourself. What paramount meaning for life! What would our world look like if we based our decisions and life experiences upon these truths?

Love God. Love yourself. Love others.

Perhaps you don’t believe in God. Perhaps you question His existence wondering what type of supreme being would allow such suffering to come to the earth he supposedly created?

Maybe you struggle with loving yourself and accepting who you are and your place in this world. If you have this identity crisis it could make it difficult to love others when you don’t know how to love yourself. During this time of self isolation you may find your internal struggle amplified.

Jesus simplifies His teachings into these three areas Love God, love yourself and love others. Jesus never qualified who those “others” are. They could be someone with a different political affiliation or policy than you adhere to. It could be someone much richer than you who isn’t suffering financially during this time. It could be someone poorer than you who doesn’t know how to put food on their table. It could be someone unemployed who doesn’t have access to health care and has difficultly getting necessary medical treatment. It could be the person terrified to leave their home due to their underlying health issues during this pandemic. It could be the worker who never stopped working this whole time. It could be the elderly stuck inside dependent on others.

So many others.

We would like to think we love others until that “other” person is us. Until we fall into that category of someone suffering, or something infected, of someone not working, or not knowing how they will pay their mortgage. Of someone exposed to the virus at work and in self quarantine. Of someone so lonely in isolation for so long they ache for connection.

Worry creeps in. Sadness fills our hearts as we mourn those who died but can’t be there to bury them. Fear comes knocking as we are unsure of what’s next. We struggle to find an emotional way to move on when there is no closure. Yet we open our laptops and see the news filled with a push to move forward, to open, to return.

Until you know someone who has suffered from the virus and seen what it can do, it’s hard to understand it’s impact. The larger percentage of the population sits back and talks about their boredom, their bread making, their ways they filled their days – while people die and families mourn.

Love others as yourself.

Are we as a nation, a people, looking out for others? We can’t desire to call ourselves a Christian nation, nor strive to get us to be one – without embodying the walk of Jesus Christ. All you have to do is read the news, see the footage of protesters rallying for their rights, hear the talk about personal liberties being infringed upon and give pause. I read recently that fear is being used as a tool to divide us all. Scroll through your newsfeed and see where people stand.

What if we embraced the fear that people have been experiencing as a way to love them?

Stop quoting Scripture and moving on. Stop talking about your trust in God as being enough. Because I ask you, is it? Is it enough to trust God but not love His people? We can live in our self imposed glass houses of faith and think they will protect us – until they shattered beneath our feet.

Open your Bible. Read those red words of Jesus. See what Jesus did while He walked this earth. He didn’t just stand still when people where afraid. He didn’t just quote Scripture to cast things out so that we do the same. He walked into the deep end of peoples lives. He embraced their pain. He comforted those who mourned. He listened and did not judge. He stepped out of the synagogue and into their hearts.

Jesus stood firm – love God, love yourself and love others.

If we want to really love others, we need to get out of ourselves, our rights, our liberties. We need to get out of the familiarity of our church buildings, our church friends, our camps, our retreats and get out in this world. Because my friends Jesus tells us, “… open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35b) 

The fields are ripe for harvest!

The world is hurting, and will be for some time. What will we do Christian? Will you remain enclosed in spiritual houses and use only those houses to reach out? Will you remain encamped in your small enclaves doing what you can in your communities? Are you willing to burst out of what you know and trust the Spirit to lead you in uncertain times for God? We are in a global pandemic and if it’s not our time to shine the light of God’s love for the world, when will it be?

Faith filled followers are called to love others.

Consider today you can love someone new. Even in your quarantine. Even as you wear your mask. Even as you transition out of the home into the world again. What will your example be? Embrace the uncomfortable and do the right thing even if you don’t fully agree with someone. Do the right thing as consider others more than yourself. Become the feet of Jesus in a world full of suffering.

Stop comparing suffering – everyone’s heart maters. Comparative sufferings only minimizes the hearts that need healing. Nothing is more important, or more essential, then bringing hope to hurting hearts. Bring the light and love of Jesus to people and their homes, their communities and lives.

We have a great opportunity before us my friends, the fields are ripe for harvest. Love God. Love yourself and embrace the pain in your own life. Love others.

People are afraid. People need hope. People need love.

Shine your light.

 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-16)

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