COVID-19 and Making Decisions or Why I’m Not Going to Church Tomorrow

There are things I can help and things I can’t. Despite my anxiety I dug myself deep in to the reputable news and the research today, determined to have a firm grasp and understanding. Every moment today I am watching as my colleagues and friends cancel their worship services and activities and move to online to keep their communities safe. Many of my colleagues’ worksites have moved to work from home or taken advanced safety measures. There are things I can help and things I can’t.

There are things we can help and things we can’t. My little family is tough and smart and relatively healthy. None of us is in grave danger. But we do know people who are, we sit with people who are, we love people who are, if COVID-19 comes for them. Neither of the adults in this family right now have the option to not go to work or work from home. It’s the reality of our present times, of being a two parent working family, of having bills due, of stagnant wages, of student loans, of needing to eat. Although we work for good employers, we might yet face a lack of pay. There are things we can help and things we can’t.

There are things I can help and things I can’t. I have hemmed and hawed and wondered and made lists while reading this afternoon and evening. There are places still open to us; Church and Sunday School is a gathering place of people close together. And while it’s one place that my introvert tendencies are challenged, where I can experience the raw space of community figuring itself out, where my family and history and very being itself is connected… and while I understand the desire to hold physical space for people, to let the process of polity work, to create and hold welcoming community in a time of uncertainty it’s also very possibly a danger. There are things I can help and things that I can’t.

The reality of my innermost anxieties is that I have decisions to make. It wrecks my gut to make bold choices, despite my presentation, and I worry worry worry about making the wrong one. But amidst all these bible verses being strewn out into the atmosphere about not fearing in the presence of God, it is my true belief that God hasn’t said we will be protected by some magical force field, but by doctors and scientists and people who have knowledge, who can give us realities, who can study and work and promise some hope on the other side with methods that work. They are the ones who can help us make the bold decisions. I haven’t found an answer or a reassurance in the Bible for this, not yet anyway. Perhaps some still small voice has yet to appear to me, perhaps it’s already calling out in the chaotic metaphorical hurricane of this pandemic and I am too stubborn or scared to listen.

One thing I do know is a prayer, one people often mistakenly believe is in the Bible, but is relatively new to the canon of wider Christian sayings. Reinhold Neibuhr started using versions of his Serenity Prayer in sermons in the 1930’s, publishing the version we most know today in a magazine in 1951. He was a really interesting guy, a public theologian whose most prolific writing was most often commentary on the political realm. He recognized that everything around us is political, that our being in the world and relationship with God is a political act. I wouldn’t say I agreed with everything Neibuhr has written, in fact I’d imagine us getting into quite the battle across a dinner table, his recognition of this is accurate. Being in this world and everything we do even as an act of faith is a political decision. If we claim the moniker of Christian, we are called to recognize how to interact in the world around us, how to be in it and all of this is deeply moral and political decision making.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

This most common form used often in cross-stitch pillows and among AA meetings asks for two things: to accept what we cannot change, what is beyond our control, and on the other side to make change. Other’s actions, systemic injustice (though, let’s talk about this one folx, because I think it gets put in this category too often and we have more control than we think), the destructiveness of an illness…all things potentially out of our control. So, what is in my control? Often these pieces are so dependent on the person holding them. I run a parenting group twice per week as part of my job and we talk a lot about control and parenting and what we can really do. I had them do an exercise recently where we physically labeled these things in their lives putting them into concentric circles with those outside of their control surrounding those within. The parents who shared all had different things in and outside; a parent with chronic insomnia described her frustration and trouble with exhaustion, while another described her affinity for reading on her phone and felt she could improve her exhaustion with some habit changes.

These things, they are small but effect us in so many ways. Different ways. They are dependent on privileges some of us may be too blind to see. There are things I can change and things I can’t.

I can’t always control my anxiety and depression but I can ensure I take my medication and see my therapist. I can offer help to my neighbor who is on oxygen, I can remind my family at risk to stay in, I can choose not to go to church that hasn’t closed yet. I can’t stay home from work or make them pay me if we close for an extended period. These decisions, they rush through my head like the refrain of a dirge. I am afraid of getting sick, of getting others sick. I am also afraid of being seen as a fear monger and someone who is doing too much and being too cautious and making too much of something. It isn’t pretty or nice sounding, this self-consciousness. It’s selfish and self-serving.

But the last part of the Serenity Prayer offers something else, it begs for wisdom. For knowing. The whole point of this blog thing is for exploring the unknowing. And I don’t know a whole heck of a lot here. But of this I am certain — I have to be willing to be seen as overreacting. I have to be willing to be a bit of a fear monger, because the threat is real, because they are confirming cases by the hour, because this is the longest time schools have been shuttered in my lifetime. Because there are people at risk. If it works, if it stops and people only remember the mass toilet paper buying and hand sanitizer shortages and empty grocery shelves in our area than we have won.

So here is the wisdom I have and the thing I can change right now. I can stay away from gatherings when I have the opportunity. I can continue washing my chapped hands 20+ times per day. I can hold mental and emotional space for those who are experiencing fear and despair, and I can do the work of sitting in the mud of this with you. I can write things about it, I can push back against unwise policy when I have power to do so. I can prioritize sanitizing and cleaning. I can order my groceries. I can make myself aware. I can stay home from Church tomorrow and the foreseeable future. I can protect others with all the decisions I can make to stay home. And so I’ll do what I can from this moment forward to stay in, to keep it contained. There are things I can change and things I can’t. There are people I can help and people I can’t. Maybe I’ll be the fear-monger and maybe I’m overreacting. But I’d rather hold it in, I’d rather flatten the curve. I would rather, much rather, do this and be in the wrong. I have the privilege, the immense privilege, of being wrong. So that’s what I will do. God grant me the serenity….

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