Last April, a friend remarked to me– “It is indeed unsettling how quickly and scary the world has suddenly become. And the isolation from one another increases the distress, of course.” Those words express the feelings of many as we continue to face the COVID-19 situation, with all its uncertainty, inconvenience and economic impact. We wonder: To whom do we tell our fears? In what do we place our hopes? Where do we find refuge?
In the face of such questions I have been meditating on Psalm 46, especially the Psalmist’s words of great encouragement in verses 1-2: “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea, though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging.”
It certainly feels to many as though the earth is giving way beneath them – nothing is the same as it was, and no one knows when or if things will (or even can) go back to “normal.” But with the Psalmist we can be confident that God is faithful and that He is not surprised nor his plans frustrated by any of the events of this world. In and through all things, including COVID-19, He is working out His purposes, and we are exhorted to wait in patient hope for that consummation (cf. Romans 8:28).
When the world around is scary and we feel overwhelmed and helpless, Henri Nouwen’s words in “The Way to the Heart” are particularly pertinent:
Small signs of friendliness can create much joy, and small disturbances between people much sadness, while the "great events" of the day often do not touch us so deeply. An unexpected note from a friend or the passing remark of a neighbor can make or break your day emotionally, while inflation and recession, war and oppression do not touch my emotions directly. A distant catastrophe has less effect than a nearby mishap, and an inter-personal tiff raises more hackles than a world-wide calamity….
But how little do we use this knowledge? What is easier than writing a thank you note, than sending a card "just to say hello" or give a call "just to see how things have been"? Still, I realize that every time someone says, "I liked your talk" or "I appreciated your remark" or "Your note really helped" or "You really seem to feel at home here" – I feel my inner life being lifted up and the day seems brighter, the grass greener. Indeed, the great mystery is that a small, often quite immaterial gesture can change my heart so much. The way to the heart always seems to be a quiet, gentle way.
In these days of “social distancing,” “shelter in place” and quarantine, reaching out to encourage someone else is the best antidote to isolation, distress and fear. A note, a card, a call, even just a comment and certainly a prayer, can be a ray of sunshine into the heart of someone else. The inner life of another can be lifted up and their day can be made brighter by just a small effort on our part. Be an emissary of hope, reflecting the grace, mercy and love of God in the midst of troubled times.