My wife, Susan, and I went for a hike over the weekend and realized that hiking was a blessing we now enjoyed together only because of the Coronavirus crisis. Before that, I played basketball at the gym and she went to Jazzercize at a dance studio, both of which were shut down last March. We rarely went for walks or hikes together even though our neighborhood backs up to a lovely open space that ultimately runs all the way to Mt. Diablo.
And that got me thinking about all the different ways in which we have been blessed not just in but also through the COVID-19 pandemic. Truthfully, Susan and I haven’t suffered at all . . . as so many people have. We haven’t lost our jobs, we haven’t gotten sick, and we haven’t had any friends or family die; we have only been slightly inconvenienced at times by not being able to do exactly what we want, where we want and whenever we want because of the various governmental restrictions.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but that hasn’t always stopped me from complaining. I’m an excellent complainer; I can mask what is actually childlike whininess with cogent sounding arguments.
The problem is that even cogent complaining is not a New Testament virtue. What we find instead is someone like Paul writing to his fellow believers in Philippi:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul is writing from prison while Nero was emperor! The comparison between Paul’s government and ours should speak for itself. But if not, take a look at this helpful article from the Christian satire site, the Babylon Bee. 2020 Rated Worst Year Ever
So what should we be doing instead of complaining?
Here, and elsewhere, Paul’s language gives us the answer. The words “rejoice” and “thanksgiving” in the Greek are Chairo and Eucharitias. Both are from the root chara, which means “joy”, which is also the root of grace, charis, and gratitude, eucharisteo. In other words, gratitude and thanksgiving . . . in all circumstances . . . are at the very heart of New Testament Christianity.
Our best response to a crisis is to cultivate gratitude. With that in mind, I’m attaching my list of 19 COVID-19 blessings for which I am truly grateful. As you’ll see, some of these are personal and some are things I’ve been blessed to see in and around Berean from my perspective as an Inside Outer (not quite an insider but allowed to watch!). If this list helps your thinking, please write back with stories of your own COVID-19 blessings. If we get enough responses, we’ll publish more of these in future issues of the Bulletin.
Bob’s List of 19 COVID-19 Blessings
1. Enjoying Family. With patience and a bit of work we’ve managed to still see our family. At first, we sat socially distanced in the yard or met someplace in the middle to pick up and return Grandkids. By Christmas we were all able to get tested and then isolate a bit before meeting at Grammy and Grampa’s house. How grateful we are for “just getting together,” in ways we used to take for granted.
2. Berean Staff. If any of us had been told a year ago what 2020 would bring, would we have predicted the grace with which Nick and the rest of the staff have handled this crisis? I like Nick . . . and I am singularly impressed with the office staff . . . but I don’t think I would have bet on how well they have done. Taking what comes, praying, not complaining and then going to work to help the teachers, parents and kids. What joy to be able to watch.
3. Coffee in the morning at home. For more years than I can remember, I’ve gotten up every morning and gone to Starbucks for coffee. Usually, I sit there for an hour or more, sometimes reading and sometimes chatting with friends. Always, I call this my “quiet time.” Ridiculous! Guess what? I can make coffee at home and the time that I haven’t spent traveling (or ordering or standing in line) has effectively doubled my quiet time . . . and raised the quality. I am praying more and better than I did before.
4. Berean Teachers. A friend of mine is on the Board of Trustees of a very large, state university system. Their biggest problem in handling the COVID crisis has been the constant complaining of their faculty. Meanwhile, the Berean teachers, even those who struggle with technology, have rolled up their sleeves and worked harder than ever to continue delivering a quality education to our kids. And they have done that without complaining.
5. Friday night in the Neighborhood. Fairly early in the shutdown, one of our neighbors toward the end of the court (a cul-de-sac for Southern Californians) invited a few folks down for a 5:30 p.m., socially distanced, bring your own snacks and drinks, happy hour. Most of us did not know one another very well. There are now a dozen or so neighbors for whom Friday evening at 5:30 is the highlight of our week! It’s a time of simple friendship and laughter as we get to know one another.
6. Berean Parents and Students. What parent wants their children to go to school from home? What student wants to go to school with Mom and Dad watching? Isn’t that the worst of both worlds? And yet . . . virtually all of our students and their parents have done what needed to be done in the middle of a situation that none of us can control.
7. Helping our grandchildren. If on-line learning is a challenge for high school students, picture imposing that on an active 7-year-old who missed most of kindergarten and is now, ostensibly, in the first grade. That’s our oldest grandson. Susan and I are so thankful we’ve been able to help, sitting with him while Mom is at work, supplementing when we can (well, Susan supplementing. She’s the former elementary special ed teacher) and, perhaps most importantly, expressing confidence for our grandchildren’s Moms that everything will be just fine.
8. Berean Board of Trustees. Who starts an endowment in the middle of a pandemic? Only people who have more faith in what God can do than they have fear of what is going on in the world. Our Trustees launched an endowment this year, stuck to it once the pandemic hit and then received $230,000 in donations. Gutsy.
9. Charitable Giving. Susan and I have always given to church and charity, but we’ve often struggled with questions of how much and where. This year it seemed easier. First,we had a bit more time to consider the needs (see Blessing 12) and second, the local needs were just more obvious. We’re grateful to be able to give.
10. Berean Alumni Donors. Shortly after Berean launched its endowment, one former faculty member put up a $100,000 matching grant. Almost the next day, another alum donated the first $25,000 toward the match. It’s impossible to overstate the blessing of such boldness. Those gifts made it easier for everyone else to give in the confidence that we were on the right path.
11. Good work. I’ve been blessed in my work with the National Christian Foundation. We help facilitate Christian giving. People make donations to us, get their tax deduction and then we hold those funds until our donors grant them out to the ministries they want to support. Last year we received $1.8 billion in new contributions (yes, billion with a “B”) and our donors granted out $1.2 billion to churches, schools and ministries of all types. Wow!
12. Less activity; fewer distractions. Susan and I have often noticed over the last ten months that we have a lot less going on. We pretty much can’t travel and have no meetings or other activities which means we’re home more and things are quieter. While we get restless from time to time, less has definitely been more.
13. Worship. Our church has done a wonderful job providing outdoor and on-line services. Again, without complaining. We’ve been blessed to be able to worship in the middle of the pandemic.
14. Cooking at home. We have absolutely been eating at home more and cooking more. For the most part that means we’ve been eating healthier and spending less. It’s good.
15. Takeout and Delivery. Sometimes we just can’t stand another night of our own cooking! We are so grateful for all the hardworking restaurant folks who have kept providing take out. And for the delivery people who bring it to us when we are really stressed.
16. Zooming with our Friends. Most of us are now heartily tired of Zoom meetings but truth be told, the ability to keep in touch with family and friends has been a blessing. And the COVID-19 part of the blessing is that we’ve been doing a better job of keeping in touch with our friends than we were before the pandemic!
17. Children not getting sick. As parents with four young grandchildren, it’s impossible to be too grateful for this blessing. Imagine what the last year would have been like if COVID hit children instead of older people. We are really grateful.
18. Quality medical care. Our doctors and nurses have, from day one, thrown themselves into treatment and prevention to the best of their ability. They’ve stood in the gap for the rest of us. Gratitude is the only proper response.
19. Lessons in humility. How good it is for us to realize that we aren’t in charge and that there are a great many things in life beyond our control. When this reality is embraced, it can lead us deeper into prayer and a new type of quiet confidence in God’s providence.