In a special edition of Leader magazine about ministry in the age of COVID-19, Fred Longenecker reaches out to “spiritual-but-not-religious” (SBNR) skeptics of Christian faith. (Fred serves as a mental health recovery coach for Oaklawn Psychiatric Center in South Bend, IN.) He notes that today’s skeptics often distrust religion, church, and the Bible, but often do believe in their inner world and their experiences. So, in his article, “Seventeen spiritual truths from COVID-19,” Fred seeks to spark an acceptance and experience of faith that begins on the inside rather than on the outside. Beginning from the outside may depend on convincing skeptics to trust in the very things they already distrust—like religion, church, and the Bible. Beginning from the inside is a way of introducing skeptics to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit as a first experience of living faith.
While the “Seventeen spiritual truths from COVID-19” are named for skeptics, I find them quite compelling for the choir as well (for the already convinced). Here are ten of them…some modified, paraphrased, or adapted for purposes of this devotional.
1. We are not in control. Instead, the coronavirus seems to be. Realizing that we are not in control of everything is an important step in spiritual growth. While we would like to imagine otherwise, we first need to realize we never were in control. Absolute control is an illusion.
2. We can’t fix it. Nobody can. Instead, we muddle on. That’s real life. Fixing everything to perfection isn’t real. If we’re honest, life is often messy. Perfection is an illusion.
3. We need to slow down. Our spiritual growth depends on our awareness of life—not blazing through it. What would happen if we all paused and silently did absolutely nothing for 30 minutes each day? Racing through life to find satisfaction is an illusion.
4. We need to trust. As we wait for the virus to pass, we are like children waiting for permission to resume our lives. We are being forced to trust that life will return to something more normal, though we have no certainty of when or how. This reminds us that such certainty is an illusion.
5. We aren’t what we do. Have you been tying your self-worth to outward accomplishments? That’s risky, because you will almost certainly crash someday (if you haven’t already). Basing self-worth on achievements is an illusion.
6. We aren’t what we have. Have you been comparing what you have to others, and judging your self-worth based on your possessions? That’s risky too, because someone else always has more than you do, and something could happen that causes you to lose what you do have. Basing your self-worth on possessions or comparisons is an illusion.
7. We aren’t empty inside. We can feel empty inside, but the truth is we are not. At the core of our being is the image of God out of which we may discover a resonance of spirit with deeper and more significant matters of life. Looking inside yourself and paying attention to your inner core is a vital step toward discovering your spiritual side. Searching for more depth is a vital step toward a dependable spiritual connection.
8. We aren’t our ego. The ego is the part of us that worries about our survival by increasing our fears of dying, running out of money, and so forth. When we learn to pay attention to the inner being within us, we gain the ability to “talk back” to the destructive messages of our ego. Rejecting the ego’s false messages is a vital step toward a dependable spiritual connection.
9. We need each other. The virus has shown us the importance of social contact. Cooperation is essential—locally and globally. Recognizing our interdependence is a helpful step toward a dependable spiritual connection.
10. Everyone matters. No one can be left behind if we are truly a fair and just society, yet the coronavirus has exposed social “potholes” that have left many living in dire straits. While a flurry of support has emerged for those disproportionally affected by the virus (let’s build on this!), we also need social and economic policies that are equitable for all. Providing enough for all is a vital part of a dependable spiritual connection.
To see Fred’s entire article, go to: https://www.leaderonline.org/ and download the free edition. (To download the free edition, however, requires a MennoMedia account—creating a username and password. The leaderonline link takes you to MennoMedia’s website, where you can download the entire edition for free. But you have to first set up an account with MennoMedia to start the download…and the whole process is not exactly user friendly. But it can be done, and it’s free!)
Phil Kanagy, pastor
July 8, 2020