As I sat down this morning with extra time on my hands from cancelled meetings and appointments, I found my soul stalled out. It seems the incredible amount of statistical information and news stories have left me (and most people, I would presume) paralyzed.
Graphs of flattening curves and comparisons between countries who have responded well or poorly to COVID-19 kept flashing to the forefront of my mind. As such, I was having a hard time knowing how to pray.
While I am deeply thankful for the information and intend to follow guidelines and precautions, I was reminded that, as Herbert Simon wisely said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Numbers, percentages, and statistics trigger different parts of our brains than stories, which explains why reading a gripping individual story or watching a documentary about one particular family grabs your attention in a way that raw statistical information does not. The numbers and data help us but we are wired for personal connection.
While there is no cure (vaccination, in this case) for COVID-19, the local church can shine in the area of care. The care provided by the local church will have to look different in light of large group gathering restrictions and safety precautions; however, the local church can do what CNN, WHO, and the CDC cannot. We can see, hear, and know our people, even if that is through a screen, a text, or an email for the time being.
Rather than be overwhelmed by the various global predictions, we can allow the current situation to press us in locally, starting with our own congregations, neighborhoods, and cities. Keeping a six foot distance from our neighbors, we can still drop in and ask how they are processing the news. We can share hoarded toilet paper, craft supplies, and perspective.
We can set up buddy systems pairing more elderly members with younger, less susceptible members. We can check in on our members in the healthcare sector whose lives, more than the average person’s, will be upended by long hours, sure exposure, and heavy decisions.
We can model resilient hope and biblical confidence for our children whose routines are utterly interrupted and whose imaginations are running wild with the vivid fears of creativity. We can use extra time with them to create habits of running to the Word of God and prayer with our fears and concerns.
We can creatively and proactively offer assistance and consulting to the small business owners in our flocks. Those whose income is more stable can offer some of their steadiness to those whose incomes are riding the curves of COVID-19.
Most of all, we can lead our people to the certainty of God’s story. We can remind our flocks that our God has proven himself engaged in the human experience through the Incarnation. We can remind them that while our earthly situations have been rocked by this virus, our eternal reality is stable and sure. We can point them to a long hope in a lasting city whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11:10) even when their once-bustling cities are eerily quiet, even if their human leaders are at a loss for what to do next.
While medical researchers race for the closest thing to a cure in a vaccine, we must creatively care for our people. We must remind them that they are more than a number to the God who numbers and names the stars. While doctors scramble to get physical tests, we can invite our people to test their fears against the measuring line of God’s Word and his precious and very great promises (Psalm 139:23-24 and 2 Peter 1:4). In a world completely and understandably disoriented, we can point our people to the true North of the God who did not withhold his only son (Romans 8:32).