Love in the Time of Corona
This is the new normal.
Uttered by countless of us over the past six months, this phrase makes my stomach flip and my mind whirl.
What exactly is the new normal?
Wearing masks into grocery stores and to my son's soccer games? Bathing in hand sanitizer? Donning rubber gloves in my classroom to disinfect desks between class periods? Forgoing hugs for elbow bumps? Holding virtual baby showers and birthday parties instead of in-person ones? Postponing funerals and bearing unspeakable grief alone?
Perhaps what I miss most about the old normal is the smiles of strangers, hidden behind a thin layer of fabric.
Love in the time of corona virus is under attack.
No, I'm not staging a coupe against COVID-19 restrictions. I am, however, suggesting that the virus has created a whole new pathology born not of germs, but of forced separation. That's right; we're love sick. Like Love in the Time of Cholera's Florentino and Fermina, we're pining for authentic, pre-covid connection with each other.
Sure, we can still interface--sans masks--with those in our household (although a recent study recommends wearing masks while lovemaking and absolutely NO KISSING! 😲). But it's those more remote relationships and coincidental connections we're missing. Prolonged chats with our coworkers around the coffeemaker. Shared lunches in the staff lounge. High fives in the cereal aisle with the stranger wearing our team's jersey. A conversation with the barista about the new fall flavors (between masks and the droning of the cappuccino machine, who can hear anyway?).
I'm just saying...
Love is being drowned out and we need to learn to speak it a little louder.
How do we amp up love in the time of corona? Consider this your Spark Notes for demonstrating agape--the highest form of love-- during a pandemic.
(Definitions taken from Strongs Numbers on Biblestudytools.com.)
1. Be patient - to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles
When your coworker seems worried or your sister-in-law overwhelmed, offer hope. There is a mountain of truth in the phrase, "This too shall pass." Corona virus will not -- cannot -- last forever. Be the one who takes heart and consistently reminds others of this promising reality.
2. Be kind - to show one's self mild
Kind people put others first. They see the image of God in everyone and can't help but extend respect and care for each human being they encounter. The cousin with conflicting political views. The Walmart greeter. The custodian at work. The young adult with Down syndrome who rides his bike around town. All of these are examples of a God who revels in creativity. Treat each one like you've just come face to face with Jesus.
3. Smile with your eyes
When it comes to communication, the eyes and eyebrows speak volumes. And since 2/3 of our faces are now covered in public, the top third has to take over the heavy lifting. It's time to break out a mirror and practice smiling with your eyes. What do happy eyes look like? Ironically, they are surrounded by wrinkles and miles away from what you'd find in an anti-aging ad.
Maybe the most important thing about smiling eyes is that they're focused on the smile receiver. That's right. Instead of scrolling your phone in the checkout line, try making eye contact with your fellow customers-in-waiting. When you've hit the mark, rev up your best ocular grin and see if your new friend doesn't do the same.
4. Talk more (and louder)
Have you noticed that people don't talk to each other anymore in public? It's as if our masks are sucking the desire for human interaction right out of us. With the perfect storm of enduring a pandemic plus the current political climate, we've lost the energy for small talk. Instead, we wander like zombies through Target focused solely on the goal of checking off our lists.
But we cannot allow outside forces to steal our humanity. Speaking to each other is another way of smiling. Like the aliens in old classic movies, throwing out a simple phrase communicates, "I come in peace. I am for you." So ready your easy expressions for the next time you're out and prepare to project from the diaphragm like a grocery store Pavarotti to make sure your message is heard through the mask!
Start with these risk-free ideas:
How ya doin?
I like your shirt/hat/bag/glasses/manicure/skirt/dress/earrings/shoes/hair/tattoo (fill in the blank).
Can you believe this weather!?
I love that (brand of soup)! (Check out his/her cart/basket and find a commonality)
Are you helping Dad out with the grocery shopping? (It's easy to strike up a conversation with kiddos and they'll be happy you did. Just don't be creepy about it. 😄)
My kids used to go through three boxes a week of that cereal!
How's your day going? (Cashiers, cops, crossing guards...anyone who's working appreciates this question)
I've always wanted to buy (item in cart). Does it work? How do you cook it it? Do your kids like it?
*On a side note, I know many people just like to get in and out of public places these days. I'm challenging you to make showing agape through small talk your mission during the pandemic. You'll be surprised how doing so blesses YOU!
5. Communicate love with body language
As a user of American Sign Language, I've come to appreciate the many facets of visual communication; body language is no exception. If you're reluctant to speak to strangers, perhaps trying some new non-verbals is for you. Here are a few ideas for conveying openness through body language:
Head nod with smiling eyes
Friendly eye contact
Arms at your sides (not crossed) or fingers laced together in front of your body
Stand up straight
Head up, taking in what's around you
Upward turned hands
Gesture like an Italian!
6. Refuse to be provoked
There is so stinkin' much to light our fires these days. Wearing masks. Not wearing masks. The "one-way" signs on the floors in Marshall's and Meijer. People ignoring the one-way signs. The 2020 election. And don't even get me started on the "clean pens" and "dirty pens" containers popping up on store counters everywhere.
But Instead of getting angry at the constant bombardment to our psyches and moving one step closer to a heart attack , try these temper tamers.
Stop ruminating, channel Elsa, and "Let it go."
Pray for the person/situation.
Repeat this mental mantra: "This is frustrating but it's not the end of the world."
Breathe deeply...in through the nose for 4, hold for 4, out through the mouth for 6.
Visualize a pleasant memory or imagine one (Tuscany anyone?).
Slowly tense and relax your muscles.
7. Rejoice with the truth
One super cool thing about trusting in Jesus is knowing that God is always in control. Another super cool thing about following the Prince of Peace is that we can communicate this calm to others. We don't need to be Chicken Littles running around screaming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" Instead, we can turn on the faucet of the holy spirit each morning and be filled with an unearthly joy that sloshes over and splashes onto others.
8. Be Humble
Brace yourself for a controversial statement: You are not entitled to happiness. Contrary to all of the bumper stickers and wall art out there touting self-love as the way to enlightenment, we find true contentment when we seek first the well-being of others.
What does putting others before ourselves mean in the time of corona? It means listening more. It means wearing a mask--even if you think it's ridiculous--in order to help fellow shoppers and coworkers feel more comfortable. It means giving up your place in line for the mama with her hands and her shopping cart full. It means being a flat flounder swimming in a sea of pompous puffer fish.
The good news from John 3:30 is this: When we decrease, God within us increases. And that brings about a phenomenon far more transformative than happiness' temporary pleasures: holiness.
9. Believe All Things
This characteristic of agape seems suspect in the time of corona, when there are LOTS of things to believe. What exactly is meant by believing all things? I can't explain this concept any better than Erik Raymond, who writes for the Gospel Coalition.
"To 'believe all things' means that we give others the benefit of the doubt. It means that we expect the best. It means that we are able to overlook the offences and failure of others. It means we believe that over time we can commit ourselves to one another. “Believing all things” means that we are willing to trust one another."
Paul's letter to the Corinthian church encourages us to trust not just anyone, but other believers. Because of our common faith in Christ, we can depend on each other and work together toward the larger goal of building God's kingdom of love and justice on earth, even as we battle a pandemic.
10. Be the Church
It has been too easy for many of us to step away from our God-given calling to gather together in worship and serve the world in love. Pre-COVID, we were already treating church as a country club that existed for our benefit and worship as an extraneous social event to attend when it suited our schedules.
A lengthy quarantine period has enabled a deeper apathy. Lingering government restrictions have made meeting together awkward; sometimes even contentious. Besides, many of us have found online spaces to worship where we can stumble to the couch in our jammies and sip coffee while watching the Sunday message on our flat screens.
Hear me out. There's nothing wrong with taking in an occasional online service in lieu of attending church in-person. However, worshiping anonymously and without the accountability of the body of Christ was never the plan for discipleship.
Hebrews 10:23-25 advises us,
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
It's time to start doing church--being the church--again.
Holding fast. Confessing hope. Encouraging. Gathering. Serving alongside each other in a world of lost people whose flames are barely flickering.
As Christ followers, let's break with convenience and say yes to commission.
If you're looking for connection in the time of corona, reach out to Jesus. COVID-19 is no match for believers armed with his agape love. It's a movement that's sure to go viral. No masks required.
Until next time.
Your hope cheerleader,
Friends, have you seen The Chosen? If not, put this TV show in your queue! It provides a fresh look at Jesus and his ministry.