We've all been in this together for a while now. 2020 has been one for the record books...even if it’s one we want to throw out and forget it ever happened. Everyone has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis in some way. Yet, even though we’ve all been in this together, our experiences have been individual and unique. Our past and present experiences influence our perspective on this year and the way we see others.
The heart of this blog is to help each of us recognize our personal lens, grow in empathy for others whose experiences are different from our own, continue pursuing truth (Jesus Christ & His Word) and be who He has called us to be as His church during these unprecedented times.
Covid-19 is real. This blog won't be arguing this point either way. Everyone has experienced some level of loss, some more than others. Real people have died – moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Those who have lost loved ones during this time have experienced a great tragedy and will need time to grieve, cope, heal, and restore.
Unfortunately, the impact of Covid-19 has gone far beyond the loss of loved ones. We are all dealing with different losses and have different abilities to cope with them. This reality has caused greater division and discord in our culture. Why? Because humans are creatures of comparison.
We cannot help but compare ourselves among ourselves (although this is very unwise: 2 Corinthians 10:12). When we experience loss and/or tragedy, we tend to measure our level of loss against those around us. Some people have experienced a large loss. Others, one small loss after another. Both can spiral into mental breakdown. Tragically, we have seen this manifest in depression, addiction and even death.
Which is worse?
It depends on which scenario you relate to and leads to our next point.
Offense is defined as "annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles." An offense is a chosen response by a person. When a seemingly offensive situation is created, a person has a choice to be offended or to extend grace and/or forgiveness (Luke 6:27-38).
Covid-19 has created infinite opportunities for people to be offended and divided. More often than not, people are choosing offense because of the comparison of personal experiences. To someone who lost a loved one, there is the chance to take offense when someone complains about lifestyle restrictions. To someone who has lost their livelihood or community, offense may be directed towards those who want restrictions.
Whether it’s COVID-19, politics, or the issues of racism that have been highlighted in 2020, offense can thrive when we lack willingness to empathize with those who have had different experiences than our own.
When offense is not dealt with properly, it divides and tears down. Leading to our next point.
The best illustration that I have heard for understanding empathy is "standing in the path of someone else." We may not be able to walk in their shoes or fully identify with their loss or pain, but we can certainly position ourselves in their lives to see their pain from their position.
The great sense of loss permeating our communities at the moment provides us with a great opportunity to show empathy to those around us. The examples of loss are endless and we have been hearing them to the point of exhaustion. We are all tired and we are all hurting - some more than others. It is extremely challenging to exercise empathy when we, ourselves, are in distress. We become surrounded by our own hurt and struggle to see how others are also hurting.
Right now, someone reading this who has lost a loved one might be thinking, "How can you compare someone losing their business to me losing a loved one?" And that's just the point, we can't. We can't compare it.
When Jesus heard the news that his relative and friend, John the Baptist had been killed, he was upset and withdrew to be alone. When the crowds followed him, he was moved by compassion for them and ministered to them in the midst of his grief (Matt 14).
My point isn’t that you can’t grieve a great loss. My point is that even though we may not be able to identify with every type of loss, our savior, Jesus Christ, can. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief. In fact, He bore OUR grief and carried OUR sorrows. He was pierced for OUR transgressions and crushed for OUR iniquities. The punishment that was put upon him brought us peace and by his wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53).
He brings us comfort. He brings us healing. He gives us the grace to see past ourselves to the point of empathy for others. When we choose to not take an offense, and instead offer empathy to each other, we make room for healing.
Truth. I know...we live in a culture dominated by relativism. Truth for many is based on their personal version of truth or "my truth". But truth, by definition, is absolute. Let's practice the last two points as we dive into this thought. Truth would say 99%+ of those who get Covid-19 will survive. But if someone you love is part of that 1%, that stat can feel like salt in a wound. You've experienced a very real personal loss and are grieving. But it doesn't change the truth of the 99%.
There is evidence that stats, figures, death totals, and test results have been exaggerated, manipulated to push a fear agenda that control people, draw viewers to news outlets, and feed advertisers and marketers. We've seen the largest distribution of wealth from small business to big business in recent history as local economies crash and big corporations, such as Amazon, explode.
Our world has not seen an extreme mental health and social crash like this in recorded history. Domestic violence, up. Child abuse, up. Alcoholism, up. Drug use and addiction, up. Suicide, up. Unemployment, up. Homelessness, up. Depression, up. Non-covid deaths due to lack of access to medical care, up.
To paint a picture of long term impacts, we can look to our military vets. We now realize that fatalities of war don’t end on the battle field with those killed in action. Many return home still physically alive, but dead inside from extreme PTSD. Tragically, twenty veterans take their life every single day. That’s 7,300 a year. Again, this isn't a comparison but simply a visualization of the long-term impacts that linger beyond a significant event.
The social restrictions, community restrictions, professional restrictions, educational restrictions, and economic restrictions from the government are not proportionate to the actual risk of this virus. While the restrictions seem empathetic to those who have lost loved ones, it’s at the expense of the 99% who need families together, businesses open, kids in school and playing sports, students at university, churches open, and government officials looking out for the interest of the entire public while also caring for at risk citizens.
We can both love and empathize with those who have lost loved ones while, at the same time, not agree with mass restrictions that cause immeasurable damage to those who remain. We need a both/and approach across the board.
Lastly, by the grace of God, we all need to choose grace and forgiveness over offense, and empathy over judgment. We need to love our neighbors and realize there are people with power who need to be held accountable for the disregard of the 99%. We need to be wise to the greed of big businesses and media, and advocate for those who really serve local communities – churches, local businesses, restaurants, schools, athletics, and community services – to do what they do. We need to grieve with the 1% and we do what is best for the success of the 99%. Love always wins.