No church. No worship. No fellowship, gatherings, celebrations, ministries and evangelizing. Nothing. For just about everyone, the Christian mission field has been devastated by the pandemic. If we can’t go out into the world, how are we supposed to reach the people who live in it? If we can’t fellowship with other believers, how are we supposed to strengthen our faith? And if we are stuck at home all the time, with interactions severely limited with other people, how can we have a mission field at all? These are questions I’ve been trying to answer for the past few months, as everything I call normal has been tossed into the air.
While the dust settles, a lot of things are changing around us. There is a lot of fear in the world right now, and rightfully so. After all, when no one is certain where to go and what to do, it can be really hard to have courage. But these situations are what Christians prepare for every day, and just because the rules have changed doesn’t mean that we no longer have an obligation to reach out to those around us and spread the love of Jesus.
For most of us, our daily circle of interactions is small: our immediate family, a few friends, and some people we interact with at grocery stores and the like. I was raised to believe that even though it isn’t my calling to be a missionary in a far-off country, my mission field is as close as my backyard. So why then, does the mission have to stop just because I’m no longer in the world as regularly as I used to be?
I think it’s easy to stop being Christlike when we are with people who see us everyday. In fact, I find it extremely difficult to show the love of Jesus to the people I see often – my family, in particularly, often tries my patience and tests my commitment to expressing Godly love. And at this point, we’ve been in close quarters for several weeks with very little distance from each other, and it’s easy to snap. Yet when I think about it as a mission field, my perspective on what God calls me to be as a believer, and what my family needs from me as a daughter and a sister, significantly changes.
I live in a family of strong believers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all need grace from time to time (in fact, it’s all the time, if I’m being honest). The more time I spend with my family, the more difficult it is to be kind to them – not because they aren’t nice to be around, but because as with everyone, we start to get on each other’s nerves eventually. I stop thinking about them as people God loves, but as people I have no choice but to spend time with, and though I’m a long way from resenting them, I sometimes have trouble remembering that there is a place for missions even here, in my Christian family.
So what does this look like? Obviously I’m not standing up on the kitchen table, yelling Bible verses at my siblings, and I’m not asking them to question their views and consider the Christian faith. When everyone around you already believes what you believe, it’s easy to slip into a mood of complacency, even laziness, and stop considering those beliefs altogether. That’s why it’s often extremely difficult to show the love of Christ to other believers: because we hold them to the standards Christ gives to us in the Bible, and are angry with them if and when they fall short. How could other believers allow themselves to slip into sinful patterns of behavior, when there are people around them to hold them accountable? How could believers allow themselves to be, as we sometimes see in close-knit families, unloving and ungracious to those they are supposed to love best? And yet we are – we all fall short, we all mistreat our families, an we neglect to show grace and love to the people whom we are supposed to be supporting. This happens when we forget that yes, even our homes are a mission field for us to nurture and fill with God’s love.
Lately, this has been something I’ve been struggling with. I love my family, and I always will – but we don’t always like each other, and it shows. But in forcing me to spend time with them – even when we’re not getting along – I’ve also been forced to consider what Jesus really meant when He said to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).
In families, even Christian ones, this takes on a completely new meaning for me. It means not getting angry with them, even if I think I have a completely justifiable reason for doing so. It means cleaning up messes, even if I didn’t make them, and not throwing a fit about it. It means being cheerful when I want to be moody, being loving when I want to be angry, and being gentle when I want to throw hellfire and brimstone at the people around me. Basically, it means doing all the things that would come easily to me were I dealing with anyone not a part of my family.
It’s convicting when you notice that you will suffer any inconvenience for a stranger, but will show no mercy to a sibling or parent who gets on your nerves. It’s even worse when you will go out of your way, even happily, to help someone with their chores or their to-do’s, but as soon as your family asks for your help, you immediately have a thousand other things that are more important to do. And when you realize that you are more openly gracious to people who couldn’t care less about your existence, and hardly consider the people who have been there for you your entire life, it’s heartbreaking.
So for me, COVID-19 has grounded my efforts to reach people beyond my home – but it has forced me to really examine the way I see and treat my family and the people in my life who matter most. Although I don’t always respond with compassion, and there are still arguments and times when my family really gets on my nerves, I’m becoming more and more aware of the times when I can be more loving and when I can show the love of Christ to my family, as I would any stranger on the street.
COVID-19 has brought a bounty of devastation and loss to so many people, and even at home we’ve had to make sacrifices and deal with constantly changing plans and unanswerable questions. But in spite of all this, it has brought many blessings, some of which are yet to appear. Ten years from now, I hope to remember this time as one where I learned about myself, my family, my best friends, and that through this time, my relationships with them, and with God, will have grown more than I ever thought possible. Perhaps this will happen in your life, too.
The Anxious Introvert