It seems to me that our current situation presents an opportunity to share a stripped-down honesty with one another that we have previously shied away from.
As the pandemic rolls on, I am in constant touch with people whose lives have been turned upside down. They are reaching out to me as their MP for support at this time; being forced to admit that they are desperate, anxious and vulnerable.
I, too, have had to admit human frailty, being knocked sideways for a couple of weeks by what was almost certainly a bout of Covid-19. And at about the time that I was feeling my worst, the Prime Minister himself – the one up there on the pedestal, in charge of navigating the UK through these choppy waters – hit rock bottom as he was taken into intensive care to fight for his very life.
This is all a far cry from the image we are used to presenting to one another. We are accustomed to showing people an image of ourselves that we have carefully created and curated – an instagrammed version of our lives that highlights the best about us. Even in lockdown, we allow people to see just a tantalising Zoom screen’s-worth of our houses through our video calls.
But the very fact that we are glimpsing each other’s home territory, at a time when we have all been forced onto the back foot by the virus, gives us an opportunity to let our guard down a bit.
We can choose to be more honest about who we are; to reveal more of our humanity behind the public facade. We have the chance to be a little less concerned with showing a brave and perfect face to the world, and more ready to admit the challenges and struggles we are all facing together, reaching out on a relational level to those we cannot meet physically.
What stops us from being honest with each other in ‘normal life’ about our struggles and vulnerabilities? Being known is something we have somehow been fearful of; the idea that we will be found out for who we really are behind our masks.
This may be because there is very little forgiveness in our society. We each create our own identity, and it is our responsibility to promote and defend our right to express ourselves as the individuals that we choose to be. There is no redemption if we slip up or fall down.
Frankly this is quite an exhausting way of living. We are required to be our own cheerleaders, and our mental health suffers as a result of constantly striving to be our best selves.
The pandemic strips away this veneer – the need to be seen as invulnerable and in control of our destinies. This might make us anxious, but I think it should be a relief.
Even as Christians, although we believe that God is in ultimate control of the universe, we are, in reality, much more comfortable believing that we are in charge and infallible. And it’s pretty exhausting, trying to be our own gods in front of one another all the time.
Instead of this, we should remind ourselves that God knows exactly who we are, and cares deeply about us, despite our failings and imperfections. Psalm 139 tells us that we are, and have always been, intimately known by him. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He offers us the redemption we are seeking. He watched us form in the womb and knows what we are about to say before we even open our mouths. We are not suddenly revealed to him by our Zoom bookshelves. We do not need to keep pretending.
How should we respond to this knowledge, as we face colleagues and friends through a screen, desperate for human contact and laid bare by the crisis through which we are living? How can we use our virtual gatherings to reach out and perhaps challenge them, through our own honesty, to dare to believe that they are loved; that they have an inherent worth and dignity, and a saviour longing to gather them in his arms?
I hope that we can find the courage to quietly model the hope that we have, not only that the pandemic will not last forever, but that we need not be afraid. Not because it cannot harm us – Christians are no more immune to the health or economic consequences of Covid-19 than anyone else – but because we know that we are supported by everlasting arms.
This should give us confidence to allow others to glimpse our vulnerabilities, and as part of that honesty, to point them to the only one who can truly hold us in the midst of the storm, resting in the shadow of his wings.
Tim Farron is the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and former leader of the Liberal Democrats.