Blog: 19 April 2020
Let us consider how to spur one another on towards acts of love and good deeds.
- Hebrews 10:24
There’s one moment in my life that may remotely compare to the feelings many people are currently experiencing. It was a moment when time seemed to stand still—my future completely beyond my control. My problem could not be fixed, solved or reorganized. Exhausted from sleepless nights, my capacity to focus on anything was futile. Prayer....impossible. I only wanted to be transported out of the current mess and placed in the future. But that’s not how life works. We have to live through these moments.
Unexpectedly, my wife’s water broke 23 weeks into the pregnancy of our second child. Four days later our little girl was born at 1 lb 2 ounces, with severely under-developed lungs and a damaged brain. Neonatologists predicted a 10 percent survival rate. Forecasts got worse with each harrowing day on life support. Even if she survived the critical first week, she’d be blind with severe cognitive damage...she would not walk...play...learn...
So what does a person do when their faith waivers, their life equilibrium is disrupted and the capacity to care for oneself spiritually and emotionally is depleted? It does happen. No shame in feeling this way. That’s where I found myself. I didn’t know how dig my way out.
There’s a deeply profound verse in the epistle to the Hebrews. It’s been my truth. Scholars tell us that this ancient community of believers were persecuted, tired, weary and ready to throw in the towel.
It’s pretty clear. Our spiritual vitality and healing is connected to others speaking into our lives. Our faith might be personal—it’s not private. We need people who “consider” us and “spur” us beyond our stagnation and despair.
This virus is real and deadly. But it is also a metaphor for another truth—the intimate connectedness of all humans and the potential we possess to impact one another in positive ways. Social scientists call this phenomenon "emotional contagion." Our words, actions and attitudes actually infect the people with whom we contact. Studies reveal that receiving a simple smile or positive greeting increases our happiness by 15 percent. The next person we encounter—their happiness increases by 10 percent....and so on.
Our levels of courage, compassion, love and generosity infect others as well. This is how we can spur.
Emotional contagion has a dark side as well. “Like secondhand smoke,” says Daniel Goleman, “the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else’s toxic state.” Negativity, hate and scapegoating is also infectious—it doesn’t spur us towards anything good. I call these folk burrs.
Twenty seven years ago, when my life took a dramatic and abrupt turn for the worse, some amazing people “spurred” me and our family on with love, encouragement, prayer and generosity. I’m forever grateful.
My challenge this week is to be intentional about considering others and spurring those around me towards love and good deeds. I hope you’ll do likewise.
PS. And that little premature, 1 pound wonder of a daughter named Erin—she just finished her first year of graduate school. That’s a story for another day.
...we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert to whatever God will do next...
- Romans 5:3, The Message
A daughter of a colleague works at a local restaurant in a suburban town outside of Camden, NJ. Some restaurants have closed since the outbreak of the coronavirus, others have pivoted to Delivery or Take-Out Only options. The past three weeks have been brutally slow.
Last Friday night, for whatever reason, business picked up. The combination of a beautiful spring evening with a local population tired of cooking, led to a boom in orders. Skeleton staffs of hourly workers were overwhelmed—delivery requests to local homes were delayed.
“My daughter arrived home exhausted,” shared my friend. “But she was also distraught by the behavior of some customers. People berated the workers for their slow delivery.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, somewhat shocked, “People were rude to the workers?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Waiting 2 hours for their sushi, instead of 30 minutes, was too much of an inconvenience.”
Berating restaurant workers—who must continue working despite potential health dangers—preparing California rolls and sashimi for people inconvenienced by three weeks of cooking at home....we need to pause for a minute.
An old friend sent me a quote last week: “Crisis doesn’t create character; crisis reveals character.” I don’t agree entirely, but the point is obvious. Warren Buffet puts it another way: “You don’t know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” The tide is going out, my friends. Stress and trouble reveal character—or lack thereof. This might be an opportunity to open our eyes and see what kind of swimwear we’ve got on.
In addition to my work in Camden this past week, I’m constantly communicating with our affiliate leaders in multiple African countries. Trust me, they’re not worrying about delayed sashimi orders. They’re worrying about no government stimulus packages, no unemployment, potential anarchy, no ventilators, no refrigeration, and no ability to stockpile food so they can social distance. If the virus hits big, it’ll be apocalyptic. Suffering unimaginable. I find this perspective sobering.
My concern for those of us living in the United States is that many will miss this teachable moment. For many, it’s the first time in our lives that we’ve been majorly inconvenienced—an occurrence happening in developing countries and under-resourced American urban communities daily. Our privilege has been interrupted. How will we respond? Will we use this moment to identify with the sufferings of others, develop greater depths of empathy and learn true patience?
What I love about the Bible is it’s always challenging the reader to go deeper, to look inward, to find purpose in the moment and to do some “soul work.” It’s the Bible where we bump into characters like the apostle Paul who say audacious things like “....troubles can develop passionate patience.” Really?
Yes it can.
Troubles can teach us patience—but only if we’re courageous enough to stop blaming others, hold the mirror to our lives and do some internal work.
Confronting our selfishness and privilege takes courage. Transferring our fear and anxiety onto the teenager who forgets to place a straw in our take-out bag with our chocolate milkshake is a cheap and easy substitute for what we’re called to do in moments like these.
Love is patient, says Paul famously to the church of Corinth. Let’s pray that our current adversity is transformed into a gift—a gift that “....forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”