September 15, 2020
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Amid Pain and Tragedy, A Blessing

Amid Pain and Tragedy, A Blessing

We are all acutely aware of the terrible harm done by the Coronavirus Pandemic to virtually every American—economically, educationally, emotionally, and culturally. But could the virus be, in any sense, a blessing? The immediate reaction of many would surely be, “Blessing? No way.” But I believe there is at least one, and it is significant. Let me begin with an experience a friend recently shared with me.

My friend had received a phone call from her grandson, a college sophomore. He explained that he was very sad because he had just learned that his high school history teacher had contracted Covid19 and died. After describing what a great teacher the man had been and the pain he felt on losing him, the grandson said this: “I have another reason for calling, Grandma—I want you to know how much I love you and that I don’t want to lose you, so please be careful.”

When she shared this with me, she added, her eyes filled with tears, “What a blessing that message of love and concern was, and how wonderful it made me feel.”

The young man might not have expressed that sentiment a few months earlier, even though he loved his grandmother no less then. The impact of the virus had made him more aware of her mortality and that awareness prompted him to give voice to what was in his heart.

We may be inclined to think of the months and years before the virus as natural and good and fervently and hope our lives will return to that “normalcy.” But we should not ignore the fact that not all was as wonderful as we recall. For decades, our culture taught us to focus so much on ourselves that we had little thought or concern for others. Engrossed in our own opinions, many of us became resentful and dismissive of those who disagreed with us. And that behavior often led to separation, division, and alienation from our friends and our families.

Then, with little warning, Coronavirus changed our patterns of daily living. All of a sudden we couldn’t go to work, to the gym, to a restaurant, barbershop, beauty parlor, movie theater, or to the homes of friends or family. We couldn’t attend weddings, funerals, or even weekly church services. Nor could we escape these conditions by driving or flying to a place free of restrictions, because no such place was accessible on the planet! Moreover, we were discouraged from leaving our homes at all except to visit the grocery store, where we were required to wear masks and maintain a new restriction called “social distancing,” and where supplies of food and other products were often limited.

These unexpected changes in our daily lives prompted two feelings that few of us had experienced as intensely before—fear of being stricken with the virus and even dying from it, and a deep sense of loneliness. And those feelings were the fertile ground for God’s blessing. They moved us to be concerned about our parents, grandparents, siblings, and close friends, and to reach out to them in text messages, emails, or phone calls.

Of course, being moved to do something is not the same as acting on the motivation, nor is simply acting the same as acting meaningfully. To put it another way, God gives the blessing, but it is up to us to respond by using it as He intends. Here is how we can do so:

Think carefully about our relationships. Ask where we have failed to nurture them by being more understanding, thoughtful, and loving to our friends and family. When our egos try to justify those failures—“I would have been kinder if he hadn’t . . .” and “It was her fault we haven’t be closer”—return the focus to our failings. (If we are convinced the fault was always the other person’s, we are engaging in self-delusion.)

Admit our failings to the people involved and ask for forgiveness. The longer the breach in a relationship, the harder this will be. That is surely why Jesus didn’t tell us to heal relationships every decade or two, but to do so at once: “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matt 5:23,24) Equally important is the way we ask for forgiveness. It is a mistake to soften our embarrassment by referring to the other person’s failings, as in “I am sorry I treated you badly, but the way you treated me left me no choice.” To do that is to withdraw the apology as we offer it, and that is hardly better than not apologizing at all. It is far better to allow to the other person to reciprocate in her good time, and if she does not, then consider that God may have given us the grace first, or that we were more prompt in responding to it.

From the present moment on, avoid the situations that caused us to fail in the past. For example, if a difference in political or religious views has led to anger, hurt feelings, and alienation from a family member before, treat that subject as an “occasion of sin” and stay away from it with that person. Such avoidance may seem to be an act of cowardice, but in reality it puts harmony above ego and is therefore an act of wisdom.

Finally, realize that the blessing God has provided in the midst of the Covid19 Pandemic richly rewards those of us who act on it. It relieves us of the spirit-crushing burden of negative thoughts and resentments, makes us more keenly aware of Christ’s reminder that we “do not know the hour” (Matt 25:13), and spares us the painful regret of having waited too long to restore harmony to our relationships.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero