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Spiritual diary of self-isolation: Weeks 1 and 2

Lynne Baab • Tuesday March 17 2020

Spiritual diary of self-isolation: Weeks 1 and 2

Here in Seattle, covid-19 exploded into our daily lives on leap day, Saturday, February 29. We had known for weeks there were a handful of cases in the Seattle area. On that Saturday, we learned of the first confirmed death in the United States – in a Seattle suburb about 20 minutes drive from us. On the news on Saturday we saw reports of super long lines at Costco as people began shopping frenetically.

On Sunday, my husband Dave and I went to church as usual, and people were using fist bumps instead of handshakes. On the way home from church, we stopped by for a brief visit with our son Mike. He wasn’t feeling well – nausea and a possible fever – so Dave walked to a nearby drug store to buy him a thermometer. The store stocks 20 kinds of thermometers, and every single one was sold out.

By Monday, March 2, six people had died in the Seattle area, and we were wondering what we should be doing. Dave has a chronic lung disease. Should we self-isolate?

Yes.

Two weeks later, many people are doing some version of self-isolation in response to calls for “social distancing.” In my upcoming posts I want to explore the Christian implications of self-isolation – the gifts from God and the lifelines that are keeping Dave and me emotionally and spiritually healthy.

One of the gifts came from a skype call on March 3 with an old friend, Hank, who is a public health researcher. The purpose of the call was to brainstorm with him about what we should do and not do. Since Dave is the one with the lung disease, I assumed I would be the one to run errands, buy groceries and pick up library books. Hank said that Dave and I need to view ourselves as one. I could bring home the virus and communicate it to Dave before I had symptoms myself.

A married couple is one. We say this at weddings, and we (sort of) believe it theologically. Certainly I have experienced it vividly from time to time. But this is a painful manifestation of that truth . . . because Dave is at high risk from dying from the virus, I self-isolate for his sake.

Yet this isolation is so ironic. We were created in the image of a God of relationships. I have to stop face-to-face contact in almost all relationships, to honor one specific relationship.

I spent the whole first week of isolation thinking about a question I’ve heard off and on throughout my Christian life: what does love require? And I thought about people I have been in awe of, including parents of autistic children and adult children caring for parents with dementia. Day after day, love requires them to provide care and love when it’s hard.

God is asking me to self-isolate in a comfortable home, with writing work to do every morning, with a husband who I have enjoyed being with most of the time in our 43 years of marriage. Love requires this isolation, which feels very painful. Can I learn to see God’s gifts in this time?

On Wednesday, March 4, Dave and I decided we could no longer attend church. Two days later, our church, and many other churches in Seattle, decided they would not meet for a while. For that first Sunday without church, we were on our own, but yesterday our congregation had a beautiful online service, and the support group Dave and I participate in after church also met using zoom. Of the eight group participants in addition to Dave and me, two are still working in workplaces, and four are working from home. One is a stay-at-home mom of a 1 year old, and her husband now works from home, creating a new dynamic for all of them. All of them are doing a great deal of social distancing in order to serve the greater good. No longer do I feel that love requires that I self-isolate for Dave. Now I understand I am self-isolating to try to reduce the spread of the disease and the demand on the health care system.

Dave and I are starting our third week of self-isolation. Because Dave and I are a week to ten days ahead of most people in Seattle, I’m going to post more than once this week with thoughts about isolation. I have learned so much from God in two weeks about the lifelines that keep us emotionally and spiritually healthy.

1. Nature. Being outside in nature has become a lifeline. We can safely walk and bike outside in places where there are not a lot of other people. In this unbelievably chaotic time in Seattle, where the news is terrifying each day, nature speaks of God’s constancy and peace. I have always been deeply grateful for the beautiful creation, the handiwork of a beautiful God, but my awe and gratitude for creation has just jumped exponentially.

2. Kindness to spouses and housemates. Dave and I have worked very hard to be kind to each other in the past two weeks. We are used to spending numerous hours many days with other people. Now the two of us are together much more. I will continue to work hard to be kind, because the kindness benefits me – my kindness makes it easier for Dave to be kind to me. I also see that kindness reflects the presence of our loving God. Intentional kindness has become our second lifeline.

I know my readers are in many different situations. Some of you are self-isolating. Some of you are starting to tiptoe into it. Some of you are in communities where the virus appears not to have penetrated, so you are engaging in life as usual. Some of you may be sick. I wonder if any of you have lost loved ones to the virus. Whatever your situation, may God guide you, strengthen you, and give you love for those around you.

Next post in 2-3 days: a few more lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love new subscribers. Sign up below if you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog.

My series of blog posts on grief AND thankfulness is especially relevant right now. This pandemic causes and reveals so many things to grieve, and in the midst of it God gives so many gifts we can be thankful for. The first post is here, and I encourage you to read or re-read all the posts in the light of covid-19.



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