Faith > Fear: What it means to be a Christian in the global pandemic

It’s fascinating to me the way that this time in our world, this time in human history, is teaching us so much about each other. This time of quarantine has had this incredible power to reveal who we really are, at our core. Even among my own friends, I am learning who the introverts are, as they spend this time all curled up cozy in their houses with books and baking, not too upset to be without social obligations. I’m learning who the true extroverts are, the ones who are using this time to talk to as many people as they possibly can about anything and everything. And we are all learning who our true friends are, the ones we can talk to for hours about anything and everything, the ones we facetime just to share silence with when we get bored or sad (since there is nothing new or interesting going on in our lives to update them on).

But most importantly of all, this time is showing us who really understands the meaning of the words community, selflessness, empathy, and compassion. 

The bottom line right now is that none of us WANT to stay locked up in our houses, missing out on precious moments with friends and family! But those of us committed to it are those with the ability to see beyond the present moment, to feel the pain of the suffering world, to cry tears along with those mourning and weeping. 

My heart has been absolutely broken the past few weeks as I have seen how truly selfish our world has become. We’ve lost the ability to empathize with our fellow human beings so much to the point that we are willing to risk the lives of those around us, willing to carry a potentially fatal disease to someone’s grandparent, mother, sibling, or child, all because we want an iced latte. We are willing to negate the hard work of those on the front lines, working themselves to the bone and isolating themselves from their families, all because you are bored and want to see your friends??

And here is where I am going to get real honest, my friends — my heart breaks even more when I look at some members of the church community. I am a Christian, which means, simply, that I follow a man who stopped to weep with widows, a man who gave up a heavenly throne to live a life of pain and poverty, a man who was tortured on a cross like a criminal to save the world from sin and be an example of true love. And I am proud to be part of so many strong communities of faith and churches of people who have truly given their lives to Him.

But as the weeks go on, I am saddened by our response as a church. Jesus died on a cross to save us, but we can’t go without a barbeque or a haircut to avoid risking the lives of our brothers and sisters on earth? We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the instrument of His selfless love in a broken world, but when our comfort is challenged, we decide it’s ok to put people’s lives at risk because we want to see our friends or share a meal?? We are part of a faith that teaches sacrificial love and putting our neighbors before ourselves, and we are being called to do that now more than ever. But, it looks different. In this pandemic, sacrificial love means staying home when you’d rather be out. It means having a digital dinner party when you’d much rather have one in person. It means having a world view that expands beyond yourself and your daily life. It means giving up the things that we WANT to do so that others might have more years on this earth.

My friends, I know it is so hard to be walking through this time without our traditional, in-person community. We are all aching for connection. But we have a responsibility right now, as people of empathy and compassion, as people of faith, to lead by example and show the world what it means to truly put others first. As believers, we believe that our actions have power, and that one person can shift the life of another, for better or for worse. We have to start acting like it. We have to start holding each other accountable. We have to start calling each other out on our failings. We are being called to guide each other and the world toward sacrificial love. Are we going to do it? Or 20, 50, 100 years from now, when they write about us in history books, are we going to regret the way we lived and wish we had done more?

Honesty in Expectation

“Being enslaved to other people’s expectations has the ability to imprison us in a life that we didn’t choose…Far too often, I let my high expectations diminish the greatness of my reality.”

Expectations.

We all have them. It’s pretty much impossible not to.

But I have discovered that we allow our expectations to get the better of us on too many occasions. I am beginning to understand that letting go of expectations is the best way to find happiness with what you have.

Other people expect a lot of us. And that is something that we absolutely can’t change. Let me say that again; we can’t change other people. I learned that lesson the hard way. But what we can change is how we respond to others. We can let their expectations take control of us or we can choose to live unique lives. When we become overly worried about how we appear on the outside, about our material or social appearance, we are in danger of falling into a trap of winning the approval of others. When we let other people’s expectations control us, we choose lifestyles that are pleasing to society, rather than listening to the longings of our own hearts.

“It’s so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don’t even know why you need it, you just think you do.” – An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Being enslaved to other people’s expectations has the ability to imprison us in a life that we didn’t choose.

And our expectations of others are just as, if not more, dangerous as the ones that people place on us.

Now let me clarify something before I move forward.

You deserve the best. You deserve to be treated like you matter. You deserve to be loved. You deserve to have people in your life that want the best for you and will listen to you when you’re at your lowest. You are allowed to expect kindness and love and friendship and generosity. These are not the expectations I am suggesting you push away. To do that would be self-destructive.

The kind of expectations I am talking about are the unrealistic expectations.

For example, I have a personal tendency to carefully plan out or write down (shocker) the things I am going to say before I actually say them. I throw different scenarios at myself, adapting to how I would react to different responses. Now perhaps this is somewhat extreme and is just the dramatic writer and performer that I am shining through into my personal life. But I know that I am not alone.

How many times have you planned out a conversation in your head and been extremely disappointed, even angry, when it doesn’t go the way you planned? How many times have you said something to someone expecting, or at least hoping, for a certain response? And how many times have you been disappointed when something you thought was going to go one way went completely in the opposite direction?

And we all do it. Every one of us. We tell someone that something doesn’t matter, expecting them to turn around and say “of course it does.” We tell someone that we are leaving them, expecting them to turn around and fight for us. We say or do something kind and expect to be recognized for it. And none of us want to admit these things, but they are true.

We build up expectations that don’t match our reality. We create people and things in our minds that are far more perfect than they actually are. The danger in this is obvious: no one is perfect, so no one can live up to our perfect expectations.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” – Paper Towns, John Green

And if we think about it logically, this way of living makes no sense. How can we possibly be upset when other people don’t live up to an idea that lives only in our minds?

And yet we do it. Constantly.

So I’m trying to change this for myself. I have a new goal: to be honest and live life without expectations of perfection. Because I have found them to be nothing but dangerous.

Holding on to unexpressed, impossible expectations is the easiest way to destroy happiness and relationships.

Because we are human. If we ourselves are incapable of loving other people perfectly, or responding to every situation perfectly, then we can’t expect that of others. We can’t test others, telling ourselves that they really care only if they respond exactly in the way that we expect them to. We can’t expect people to feel the way that we feel. We can’t expect them to understand everything going on in our lives, especially when we don’t tell them. We can’t expect people to read our minds.

And friends, I am going to be really real here. I am the biggest culprit of this. Far too often, I let my high expectations diminish the greatness of my reality. I read into every word of a phone call. I let the unanswered text message spiral me into a place of self-doubt. I start to think “if they really cared about me, they would have [insert my own personal, unexpressed expectation here].”

“Most people see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” – The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

The only way that I have come up with to fix this issue is honesty. We need to have the courage to discuss expectations, the ones placed on us by those around us and the ones we place on others. We have to be willing to lay our expectations on the line and we have to be willing to tell others that some expectations are too much for us.

And just think about what would happen if we were honest and learned not expect things. If we were able to limit our own impossible expectations, everything would become a blessing. Our days would be filled with moments of joy, instead of disappointments. Instead of being upset when something doesn’t go the way that we expected, we might be pleasantly surprised. Instead of being sad about what doesn’t happen, we would be happy about what does. Everything good that happens would be an unexpected gift. 

So I am going to try to learn to let go. I am going to make a conscious effort to be surprised by the good and the bad. I am going try to appreciate people for who they are and understand that the fact that they may not think and love like me is what makes this world unique and creative, albeit challenging. Because how boring would it be if we were all the same and just simply lived to live up to expectations?

“I was beginning to understand, though, that there were no absolutes, not in life or in people.” – Just Listen, Sarah Dessen