Most of us are familiar with the story of the professor who filled a container with large rocks and asked the students if the container was full. “Of course,” the students said. “You can’t get another rock in the container.” The professor then poured pebbles into the jar that fill the crevices left by the large rocks. “Is it full now?” The professor then poured sand and water into the container, and finally, at long last, the students were convinced that the jar was finally full.
The only way to get more in the jar is to take something out.
While we can discuss a lot of the aspects of our response to the pandemic, the one thing we agree on is that COVID-19 made us take a lot of things out of our lives. We stopped going into the office. We stopped going to school. We didn’t eat out at restaurants or go see movies. We didn’t go to church or on vacation or even to see family. We stayed at home.
We were surprised to discover that being at home wasn’t that bad. We found out some things about our lives and our lives as families that we had been missing. We rediscovered how good it could be to eat dinner as a family. We found ourselves surprised at how good it felt to not have our schedules crammed to the edges every day. We read some books. We worked around the house.
We enjoyed being home.
Now, it wasn’t all roses and violins. If I’m never in another video meeting it will be too soon. Like you, I had days that were back to back to back Zoom meetings and I was exhausted by the technology. For human connection and communication, technology can enhance the process, but it can’t replace it.
As the pandemic seems to be receding, we are returning to our “normal” lives. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Now that we’ve been released from quarantine, we’re frantic to do again what we were doing before COVID-19 hit. We’re getting back into the same old routines and, I’m afraid, making the same old mistakes. Before we know it, we’ll all be stressed, burned out, and exhausted.
Few of us seem to have the courage to ask a couple of questions that really need to be asked. The first one is obvious: “Does this need to be done at all?” I don’t know about you, but in every area of my life, both professional and personal, I discovered a lot of things that I could stop doing because, honestly, no one missed these things not being done. I told our church that during the year we didn’t have in-person gatherings, few people missed many of our programs. In fact, I would say no one missed MOST of our programming.
Now that we’re gathering again, why would we do the things no one missed? We have wasted countless hours and an untold amount of money making sure everyone had somewhere to go every day of the week. Think about it. Every week we encourage our members to love and serve their neighbors in the name of Christ. We want them to share the gospel with their friends. Then, we ask them to attend meetings every night of the week at the church. When do they have time to meet their neighbors and hang out with their friends?
Any time we talk about prayer and Bible study, we hear the same response. No one has time. Modern life is too frantic and hectic. I know they’re right. We can’t go five minutes without something demanding our attention – buzzing, vibrating, or blinking.
Ancient mystics reminded us that the Spirit of God is shy. The Spirit is drawn to silence and stillness. The Spirit isn’t found or discovered but rather drawn into our lives. We create that space by disconnecting from our world, turning off the distractions, and learning to sit still in a very hectic world. Don’t be surprised if the Spirit seems slow in showing up. Be patient. The Spirit works deep, and the deeper you go, the slower you go.
The next question we need to ask is what kind of life we really want. COVID-19 has given us the perfect moment for a do-over. Were we happy before COVID-19? Do we want something more? Something richer? Something more spiritual?
The Spirit, Jesus taught us, is like the wind. We can’t control where it blows. That’s true. Our meteorologists tell us the wind doesn’t blow but is drawn into lower pressure areas. The wind flows from high-pressure weather centers to low-pressure centers. In the same way, the fullness of God is drawn into the emptiness of our lives.
This emptiness comes from our realization that we cannot heal ourselves. We can’t save ourselves. All our efforts to provide meaning to our lives are futile. The things we search for come only from God.
And God comes only when He is desired above all else. The pandemic didn’t break anything, but it certainly showed us what is broken. Our exhausting chasing of the wind was one of the things we found no longer worth doing.
The pandemic has given us the perfect excuse to establish opportunities to experience the presence of God in our lives. Resign from community boards that don’t do anything. Turn off the television. We all know the problem with 24 hours news is there’s not 24 hours’ worth of news. And how many cat videos do we need to see on the internet?
Life isn’t as complicated as we make it. The best things are still the simplest. The challenge of our post-pandemic life is to not clutter our lives to the point where Jesus Himself can’t get a word in edgewise.