As remaining coronavirus rules end in England on 16 August, Chris Goswami looks back on some of the changes caused by the pandemic that we may wish to hold on to
If these past 18 months have taught us anything, it is that life is uncertain. We used to say, “next month we’ll go there” or “let’s plan where to go on holiday next summer”, but not any more. The Covid pandemic has stripped all that away with its exponential curves and soaring death rates. Suddenly we have discovered we are not in control.
In fact, the truth is, we were never in control, but we managed to kid ourselves that we were.
Joy is the story we choose to tell ourselves
And yet, as Philip Yancey once wrote: “vulnerability is the landing strip for grace”. Nobody enjoys feeling vulnerable or weak but it is primarily through our weaknesses that God teaches us. Now, as we look forward to continued re-opening, here are ten habits that we may have latched onto in our weakness, and which we should perhaps not let go:
1. Appreciate vulnerability
Dealing with uncertainty in our lives can give us a glimpse into the lives of millions all over the developing world. Uncertain living is new for many of us but not for all. For many people across the world, daily living has always been uncertain. Many simply don’t know if the work they do have will last the week. And if they are unable to work, there are no hand-outs.
Bizarrely, this loss of control can actually be harder for people living in developed countries to deal with. We’re not used to such uncertainty. May it make us more compassionate twoards those who are.
2. Love where you live
My family has discovered half a dozen new walks near our house in the past year. We had to, because we were told to stay local. With shops and entertainment venues closed, we were forced to discover new ways to amuse ourselves. But it was great and, for us, completely new - different to the places we would usually drive to.
Ironically, when the Government allowed us out only once a day, I made SURE I went out every day. Now that I am allowed out as often as I like, some days I don’t go out at all! Still, this discovery of local beauty is something we can continue to enjoy.
3. Wash your hands
Obviously, everybody washed their hands before Covid-19, right?
The simple acts of washing our hands and staying home when we feel ill saves lives. It’s shockingly simple. I am told that the number of deaths from flu this past year has plummeted. How about if we never go back to the days of coughing and sneezing in the office?
And then there’s the hot topic of wearing a mask. A mask, as we know, protects others more than it protects ourselves. That makes wearing one an act of generosity. It says to others, “I care about your wellbeing. I care about your peace of mind”. Let’s continue to care.
4. Know your neighbours
Maybe your street, like mine, now has a neighbours’ WhatsApp group or something similar to help neighbours stay in touch. Looking after each other reached an all-time high during Covid-19, with neighbourhood foodbanks and support circles springing up all over the place. Lots of us simply became more aware of people around us. Can we keep offering to do the shopping and pick up prescriptions? This may be declined, but the simple fact that you offered to help is what people need to hear.
5. Work from home (but do it intelligently)
I applaud flexible, hybrid working for those fortunate enough to be able to choose it. Removing the commute, saving money, a better work-life balance - it’s all good. But it comes with a warning. People who are not seen in the office are promoted less and paid less (there are credible studies to support this). Moreover, if your company is OK with you working from home, why wouldn’t they outsource your job to someone in another country who will do it for a quarter of your salary? It already happens in industries like mine (software technology). So, yes, flexibility is great, but if your organisation has a central office, consider the price you might pay for not being there; make sure it’s worth it.
6. Say NO to non-essential travel
This is pretty much the opposite of the last point, but life is often complicated and requires us to hold opposing ideas in tension.
The 2020 decrease in national and international travel led to reports of cleaner air in many countries. So don’t get into cars, planes and trains if you don’t need to. It will save you time and money and help save the planet too.
7. Value the people who keep the wheels turning
This was the big discovery of summer 2020. We, rightly, began giving credit to the folks who keep society going. That included health workers but also many other - often low-paid - workers who kept our lives on the road. Is that something we can remember one, two or three years from now? Let’s try not to go back to simply looking past the people who serve us.
8. Keep Church online and accessible
My church, like many, is suddenly all over YouTube, and we have multiple WhatsApp groups, including one for our watercolour art group, where I think the youngest person is about 70. I have been astonished at folks in their 80s who have regularly shown up at Zoom prayer meetings. They had never heard of Zoom or WhatsApp before. “It’s bricks and mortar alongside clicks and coding”, as Dr Pete Phillips of Premier Christianity said. From now on, can we try to make everything we do both physical AND online?
9. Keep Church face to face and real
And yet. There is now a generation of children who think Church is something you watch on YouTube. If that’s the case, it won’t be long before they work out you get better entertainment from Disney+ and Netflix. Much has been written on the “spectator mentality” of online Church, and many of us are finding that encouraging our congregations back into our buildings isn’t easy. But, whereas some people cannot return to physical gatherings, most of us can and should. Although hybrid models are innovative and reach new audiences, Church remains essentially an embodied, face-to-face, encounter.
10. Lean in to joy not fear
Joy is the story we choose to tell ourselves. I have often been a glass-half-empty person. I find it very easy to contemplate all the things that are not great about my life (maybe you do too). But we have to choose the story we tell ourselves, day by day - and sometimes moment by moment. We can choose to tell ourselves that it’s not fair that we can’t go abroad on holiday, we miss seeing our family, we’re not allowed into some venue or other. These things are true, and we can choose to view our life through this lens of weariness and loss.
Or, we can choose to see our life through the eyes of a God who uses every experience to form us, shape us with courage, perseverance, empathy and new habits. We can choose to remind ourselves that lots of things in life are not broken; that we have a new appreciation for the things around us, a new concern for people around us and new ways of working and being church. And we can choose to consider that, in a world filled with uncertainty and change, we can know a certain and unchanging God. It is a choice – choose joy today.