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Living free from covid while people I love suffer

Lynne Baab • Wednesday January 6 2021

Living free from covid while people I love suffer

The Seattle area leads the country in percentage of people who feel sad. According to an article in the Seattle Times, “Of the slightly more than 3 million people age 18 and older in our metro area, an estimated 1.5 million were feeling ‘down, depressed, or hopeless’ at least a few days over the previous week.” You’ll probably say, oh, it’s that terrible dark and rainy weather in Seattle in December. However, the Seattle area was effectively tied with the Phoenix area, which of course is much, much sunnier than Seattle in December. My heart goes out to all the sad people all over the United States.

As many of my readers know, my husband Dave and I started pandemic life in Seattle, but we are now living in New Zealand until vaccines become available. In Seattle, in May and June of 2020, we began to notice how well New Zealand was dealing with covid. Since we have permanent residence here, we began praying about whether we should move here for a few months or maybe a year. We left Seattle on September 8, and endured two weeks quarantine in a government-run quarantine hospital in Auckland, a fascinating experience (which I wrote about here and here).

Here in Dunedin, the last time we saw anyone in a mask was shortly after we arrived in October. We go to church in person. I go to the gym three times a week – no sign ups, no masks, just show up – and Dave plays tennis at his old tennis club. We hug old friends when we see them, and we sit in their living rooms talking. I shop in supermarkets and health food stores in a leisurely fashion without feeling urgency to hurry to reduce my risk.

Every single day we are aware of the privilege of living this way. Every single day we grieve at the isolation and limitations that our family members and friends in the U.S. and elsewhere are dealing with. We have mentioned this in many emails and zooms, and the reply is always, “Don’t feel guilty. We’re just so happy to know that someone we care about is enjoying a normal life.” Their words are lovely and encouraging. But what we feel is probably a kind of survivor guilt.

I pray for my family members and friends in the U.S. much more than I used to. You may be interested in the three words I often pray – protection, shalom and God’s light – one word on each breath. I’m thinking about protection from the virus and from other diseases that might not get treated, protection while biking and walking, protection from anxiety, loneliness, job loss, eviction, and other side effects of the pandemic. After reading that Seattle Times article, I’ll add depression to the “protection” category.

I pray for shalom in the broadest sense – well-being in every area of life, including a sense of personal peace but much more. When I pray for God’s light, I’m thinking of Psalm 36:9, which is addressed to God: “In your light we see light.” That verse has become a frequent prayer for myself and others in the pandemic.

In addition to increased prayer, I’m also thinking a lot about 1977, when I read a book that changed my life:  Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. (It was updated in 2015 if you want to read it.) I was a young adult, and the book made me aware for the first time how widespread the effect of hunger is. When I read the book, 25,000 children around the world were dying each day because of the effects of hunger. Before the pandemic, that number had decreased to 16,000, a major achievement, but still WAY too many children.

That number – 25,000 – haunted me for years. My prayers changed. Our financial giving changed. For about a decade in my 30s and 40s, I served on the board of an international development organization and helped raise money. For the first time I truly understood that my own personal experience of well-being can differ immensely from the experience of well-being, or lack it, in places I don’t see.

How do we live with this reality? Even in those first pandemic months, while Dave and I were in our house or biking in the neighborhood, we had a house and a neighborhood and money coming into our bank account each month. We could order food and other needed items. Dave had his painting, and I had writing work. Even then, even with all the limitations, our privilege was huge. Now our privilege is even greater. How do we live with this dissonance?

In late 2019, before the pandemic started, I wrote a series of blog posts on holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. (The first post is here.) That two hand idea has been the single most helpful thing for me in the past year. The grief in one hand leads us to lament prayer and intercessory prayers. The gratitude in the other hand leads us to notice the small and big gifts we have received, helping us bring praise and thanks to God. All of this exists at the same time. Jesus companions us in all of it and wants us to bring all of it to him in prayer.

I have learned that it is wrenching and painful to work on holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. This is truly not an easy thing to do. However, it mirrors Jesus’ engagement with our world, and we are being transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18). May God help us live faithfully with pain and sorrow, while rejoicing in great gifts.

(Next week: the first post of a new series on quotations I love. Actually it’s a continuation of a series from 2015. Illustration by Dave Baab: beautiful Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula, about 45 minutes from Dunedin. Royal albatrosses nest on the other side of the headland. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

If you missed my four posts about Advent and Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, here they are:

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