The Spirit lovingly but clearly reminded me that I cannot want the good gifts of Christ’s Kingdom without also bowing my heart to him as King. I’m so grateful that Jesus comes toward us in our lack and our sin, and he uses trials of varying degrees to prune and grow us. Our experience with COVID-19 was much less painful than many others, especially those who have lost loved ones to this disease. I’m thankful for the gospel, which allows us to grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13), and for life-giving lessons learned through trials.
For less than two weeks I had felt relief that the infamous 2020 was over and tentative excitement for the New Year. With more unexpected speed and fury than the litany of Bernie-mitten-memes, COVID-19 pounced. My fever spiked in the night and left quickly, but the fatigue and body aches lingered much longer. On the same morning I first felt symptoms, my husband realized he couldn’t smell the canister full of coffee, the candle on the dresser, or our toothpaste. We both got tested that day, and the following day both results came back “Detected.”
As God does with any of life’s trials, he used this season of illness and quarantine to illuminate my need for dependence on him and grow my faith. At times heart-change can feel almost as unpleasant as the COVID nose swab . . . almost. But in both cases the discomfort is necessary for greater understanding and, Lord willing, appropriate intervention.
Control is an Idol
One of the first lessons I learned was not new, but it was difficult nonetheless. After feeling the initial shock of the positive diagnoses, I needed to embrace the fact that my family of six would be quarantining for at least ten days, with two sick parents. Very soon another symptom cropped up alongside my headaches: anxiety. I realized my restless and irritable feelings weren’t being caused by COIVD-19 but rather by the inescapable truth of my own lack of control.
One of the most frequent questions I received from friends and family was, “Do you know how you got it?” Before getting sick I can remember asking others the same question. For me, the question had dual roots of curiosity and control, with the latter being deeper and gnarlier. Like a footnote marked with an asterisk, a sub-question also could have been “What do I need to do better to avoid it?”
I certainly am not discounting or disparaging precautionary measures, like wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands more frequently. I am observing and confessing my own heart’s propensity to want to take things a step further and sovereignly control the world around me. I drift toward false hope that my willpower and behavior can effect change in both the seen and unseen realms. The truth is that no matter how careful or proactive we are, as humans we cannot completely control a virus. Moreover, we as humans do not have sovereign control over anything at all. That will be a hard pill to swallow until Jesus returns, but with every life circumstance that makes this truth painfully clear, we have the opportunity to embrace it a little more quickly and rest in it a little more fully, despite the anxiety we experience.
God is the only sovereign being, and he has ultimate control over all of his creation. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Immediately following this simple but profound truth, the psalmist speaks of idols. He notes that the nations’ false gods cannot engage with their worshipers in any way; they cannot move on their behalf. In contrast, God’s people are reminded to trust in the Lord, and he is rightly called “their help and their shield” multiple times. God alone is sovereign, and remembering his faithfulness will bring a peace that my attempts at control cannot.
It Takes Strength to Ask for Help
Another lesson I learned during quarantine is that it is a strength, rather than a sign of weakness, to ask for help. Our culture immerses us deeply in individuality. The mindset of being “strong enough” to handle trials on our own often keeps us cut off from blessings that God has for us, and it hampers our spiritual growth. God designed his people to be genuine family, adopted by him, our Father, and set on mission together as brothers and sisters. Our understanding of family is colored by our experiences, whether good or bad. The Spirit, however, is faithful to continually teach us what God’s perfect design for family looks and feels like.