We hear a lot about how COVID 19 changed our circumstances – canceled events including significant life milestones, working from home, loss, toilet paper shortages, a dive in the stock market, virtual classrooms, etc. But I’m asking what has gone on inside you, not around you? In what specific ways has God gotten your attention through this unique time? How have you become a different person in your attitudes, desires and behavior?
Allow me to make some observations about our world and our own hearts that I’ve seen during this season.
We live in a time of gluttony. Yes, we have all-you-can-eat buffets, but I’m talking about much more than that. Almost all our appetites are out of control. We have bursting calendars – where kids and adults have something happening almost every night of the week. We are social gluttons –unable to take our eyes off our phones, constantly checking to see how many followers we have or what our friends are doing on Facebook or Instagram. Quantity overload has seeped into our leisure – we have hundreds of TV channels from which to choose in addition to Netflix, Hulu, and now Disney +. We used to simply go for coffee, now Starbucks boasts 80,000 ways to drink a beverage. Our spending is out of control too. “According to Experian’s 2019 Consumer Debt Study, total consumer debt in the U.S. is at $14.1 trillion, with Americans carrying an average personal debt of $90,460,” (Bankrate.com May 2020). We’ve also developed some out-of-control and unhealthy habits in how we spend time – $3075 is spent on porn every second and 25% of all search engine queries are associated with porn, as reported by Webroot, a cybersecurity company, in 2017. The Apostle Paul’s description of those ‘whose god is their appetite’ (Philippians 3;19) certainly seems to fit.
The problem with letting our appetites control our lives is that they can never be satisfied. We chase after more and more only to find ourselves increasingly empty. These distract us from what can truly satisfy. This is not a 21st Century problem. The Prophet Jeremiah, six centuries before Christ, poured out God’s heart regarding this common human condition –
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (2:13) Still an accurate picture of the human condition.
One of the strategies to defeat gluttony is the disciplines of restraint. These include neglected practices like fasting, silence and solitude. Through these, we train ourselves by ‘going without.’ Restraint can be soul-cleansing. As distractions are removed, we can often think more clearly or at least be more mindful. The volume of the world is turned down, so we can more clearly hear God’s voice. We appreciate what we have, instead of always wanting more. We are forced to face ourselves. We have nowhere to hide. Our needs and motives are exposed if we dare to look. We even make room for repentance.
This pandemic has forced us to confront some of this excess. I’ve been interested to observe that the COVID19 pandemic has served as a global fast to some extent. Sheltering in place kept us home. Our calendars were wiped clean as nearly everything was closed or cancelled. Our freedoms were pinched. Our spending options were limited. A society accustomed to getting whatever we want whenever we want it, suddenly faced shortages, limits and restricted hours of business. In this way, the COVID crisis presented an opportunity to push pause, to hit re-set. Even if things were to return to ‘normal,’ I’m not convinced all of us would want that.
Sure, we found new ways to binge. Without Theaters or Professional sports to entertain us, Internet use soared by 70% according to some initial reporting by Forbes. And websites (not Apps) grew in popularity – Facebook.com +27%, Netflix.com +16% and YouTube.com +15.3%. Our work and social connections moved online with daily app sessions on Zoom (about 7.5 million), Google Classrooms (about 5 million) and Teams (over 2 million) (New York Times, The Virus Changed the Way We Internet, April 7, 2020 – data collected from SimilarWeb and Apptopia).
As social isolation fades, I hope we don’t lose sight of the most important connection. Moses, in the oldest Psalm written, says what I hope becomes a daily prayer for each of us. “Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.” (Psalm 90:14) I found this verse one day during COVID, when my joy levels were approaching empty. God lovingly reminded me that true joy is found only in seeking satisfaction in God’s unfailing love. George Müller, 19th Century Missionary Educator, said that his first task each day was to make his soul happy in the Lord. No wonder God used him in such mighty ways in the lives of orphans.
Whatever the ‘new normal’ is that we return to after this pandemic, I pray this ‘pandemic interruption’ will have not been wasted. I hope we are all changed. That we will allow this ‘global fast’ to do its work. That we don’t look back on this time as the year ‘March Madness’ was canceled, but the year God removed some of the ‘madness’ from our lives. God is our only certainty, and the only one who can satisfy our soul.