In John’s gospel, there’s a story of Jesus whipping around to ask two excitable and possibly over-eager followers, “what do you want?” They reply, “Teacher, where are you staying?” In other words, where are you coming from? What are you all about?

I’ve been thinking about what I want a lot, lately. Mostly, because I can’t have it. I can’t have a drink with friends on a patio, communion with my church, coffee with a new friend, live worship, a bear hug . . . a haircut. 

But I can go a pretty long time without these things, truth be told. What’s been niggling in the back of my mind well before I’ve run out of books to read, neighbourhood blocks to walk, and social stories to tell, is the question these disciples ask in response. What are you all about?

Chances are that two weeks into nationwide social distancing, and self-isolation, you’re beginning to wonder, what am I all about?

Maybe you’ve never had existential thoughts like this before (bless you), or perhaps a combination of the 24-hour news cycle and bumping up against the limits of your mental and literal bandwidth has you, for the first time, coming to grips with who you are. Solitude can be awfully imposing; when it’s not invited. 

The bad news is, solitude, like you, isn’t going anywhere soon. The good news is, you’re not stuck with who you are. 

In this post, I share three ways you can find life-changing purpose in a pandemic. 

  1. Cultivate Holy Habits

When everybody else is watching Love is Blind, go outside and open your eyes. 

It’s the Spring, in Vancouver, and those cherry blossoms aren’t going to blush like that for much longer. Besides, the public health authority didn’t say stay indoors, they said, stay home. Easier said than done if you live in an apartment. But if you have a slice of grass, or a courtyard to stroll around on, do something different! Put the deck chairs out or play soccer in the backyard. Order the easel and watercolors you’ve wanted, on Amazon. Paint a world without disease in it. The key is to strike a balance between rhythms that were working for you before this reign of viral terror, and new rhythms that produce novel, self-realizing routines. There’s no litmus test for what qualifies as a holy habit or a self-realizing routine, however, perhaps it’s enough to ask, “does this habit engender the love of God and others, in me?” 

A holy habit is different, by nature. For something to be holy it needs to be set apart from everything else. For something to be a habit, it has to be consistent. It’s too easy to drown out your anxiety and worry with more media. But more media won’t affirm who you are, and more media won’t show you what you’re capable of in adversity. The apostle Paul says, whatever is true whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

There’s no better time than this to have an original and excellent thought. Adversity breeds innovation and creativity. What holy habits might God be inviting you into today? 

Think about it.

2. Discover your Agency Amidst Inability

You’re being told what you can and cannot do, more than you’re used to. You’re getting unsolicited recommendations about where you can go, what you can do, who you can see, how you can live your life. All for good reason. Listen to the experts. 

But being told no over and over will only exasperate your need for control. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take a lot, right now, to tip your diligent disinfecting over into the category of compulsively cleaning. Again, it’s understandable, given the circumstances. 

Listen to the experts, but make sure you’re listening to God. God always answer this simple prayer: speak, Lord, I am listening. While God often speaks to us through trusted voices that surround us; voices that enable greater discernment of what God is saying to us, God is more than willing to speak to you, by his Spirit. Would you afford him the opportunity?

When God speaks to his children, it’s in the undeniable, fundamental language of YAASSS! By the very fact that you can have an ongoing conversation with the Creator of the universe, God is saying yes to you. God knows what power you possess because he put it in you. God knows what plans he has for you because he’s given you hope and a future! You cannot control the world outside, but you can surrender your inner life to the rule of Christ. 

Discovering your personal agency amidst inability builds on the cultivation of holy habits. It’s amazing how differently your day can go when you start it with the one who made it. To begin the day in scripture and silence before God, as opposed to another Covid-19 update, graph or news briefing is the most repeatedly empowering thing you can do for yourself. Go on, sing it. I’VE GOT THE POWER!

3. Keep Praising 

Over the last week, I’ve been spending time in the morning, reading the Bible’s Psalms. One thing I appreciate about the Psalms is how often they begin with praise. The Psalms include petitions and some pretty authentic cries of anguish, but they often begin from the perspective of praise. 

Typically, when you and I grapple with a significant struggle; when we bump up against the brokenness of the world, we tend to bring our struggles to God in the form of petitionary prayers and requests. Lord, help me in my weakness, Lord keep the darkness at bay… now there’s nothing wrong with that, the Bible encourages us to do so. However, in a time of contagion, God is calling us to see our challenges from the perspective of praise.

When we praise God, a spiritual shift takes place in our hearts. When we’re overwhelmed we come to God with petitions, but when we praise God amidst a problem too big to solve on our own, our problem is overcome by God’s power. Our problem taps out, our problem relents, our problem says, I give up, because it’s up against God, and God says, if I am for you, who can ever be against you!

When we begin with a perspective of praise, gratitude results. Gratitude prepares us to enter into normalcy when the dust settles. As a pastor, I cannot wait until we gather again in worship and celebrate communion! But I pray that we would gather, never being the same. I pray that we would gather, having been changed by this crisis, according to God’s purposes and plans. It’s my prayer that we never again gather out of religious duty, but that we would gather gratefully, in relational delight. 

As a friend, recently said, I can’t wait to hug the sh*t out of you.

I’m looking forward to it. Because, toilet paper. If this pandemic teaches us anything, it will be how to see the world that God loves, from a new perspective; to see the world from on our knees, and to keep praising.