Updated: Jun 15, 2022
There is a time for every event under heaven… A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1b, 5b NASB)
We spent a glorious week with our daughter, her husband, and their young boys in a rented house on Whidbey Island for the last week of summer. Unfettered by social distancing, we devoted ourselves to play, with plenty of jostling, wrestling, bumping, snuggling and hugging. There were biking, kite flying, indoor games, and a rope swing, but the highlight was the beach. We lived by the tides, daring the sticky mud when the tide was out, wading in the ebbing tide, building castles for the flowing tide to melt.
Our first castle had an immense moat and a spiral of scallop shells around its flanks. A seaweed flag waved on a driftwood flagpole in the center. We all assembled on the narrowing beach to watch the tides surround and melt the castle. Finally “Stick,” our brave flagpole, toppled into the water.
Our second castle had a stronger foundation. A new “Stick” the flagpole was hammered into the sand and wedged tightly with rocks. Again we assembled for the flowing of the tide. The sands melted away, but the rock remained, and our brave “Stick” was still there at high tide. Every hour or so until bedtime, we’d go out on the deck and then assure everyone, “Stick is still there!!” And Stick was still proudly standing when we left for home the next day.
After our return, we had one last dinner at our daughter’s house. I finished off the evening squashed companionably into a cozy chair, reading a few books with the four-year old. Finally, it was time to go.
“How about a hug?” we asked. The boys enthusiastically hugged us once, twice, three times and more. This was the end of our respite from social distancing, because the boys would start on-site school in the coming week. No more hugs until Christmas vacation.
Walking out to the car, I felt a lump in my throat. I glanced over at Kent. His eyes were moist. It felt like a really serious goodbye, like getting on an airplane and crossing the continent, not driving twenty minutes to home.
We know we’re loved, even when we’re asked to stay away—or maybe because we’re asked to stay away. Kent ruefully ticked off his risk factors for COVID-19 severity—over 65, male, a blood disease. “You’re over 65 too!” he pointed out.
I’ve been practicing this stay-away kind of love with my mom, too. Sometimes I grumble about the no-visit rule at the nursing home where Mom lives, but it has had zero COVID-19 cases. Visitors would put the residents and staff at risk. Staying away is love.
Not all Christians agree on this. I read about a large worship service planned in Gas Works Park on Labor Day, somewhat thwarted by the park closing. Some think prohibitions on large gatherings and requirements to wear masks in public are an infringement of religious freedom. These brothers and sisters offer defiance of public health guidance to God as an act of worship. Is that what God desires?
Jesus closed the door on that one when He made the test of those who will enter His kingdom simple acts of love to the most hurting, cast-off souls, including the sick (Matthew 25:34-46). John the apostle builds on this starkly with, “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 1:20).
Creekside has chosen the path of sacrificing corporate worship to safeguard the health of members and strangers. Creekside is laying down its corporate life for its members, loving us and loving the circles of people we encounter. I believe God is pleased with this.
Jesus prepared his disciples for a very major “staying away” at His last meal with them before His arrest. He knew they would grieve and miss Him. He gave them counsel and comfort to endure the staying away.
[B]ecause I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:6-7 NASB)
Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (John 16:22 NKJV)
Like the disciples, we have the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to comfort and strengthen us during our pandemic separation. We too look forward to a reunion (and hugs!) with our beloved children and grandchildren, not to mention other family and friends, when danger from COVID-19 is reduced.
One of my whispered fears is that my Mom won’t make it until spring 2021. I have no reason to think this other than that she’s over 100 years old. But what if her last year of life is spent sequestered from family?
Well, Mom has the Holy Spirit too. She trusts in Jesus. And I trust God is firmly grasping her in this season when she can’t remember these essentials. If she dies before the vaccine, our hopes are deferred but they are not destroyed. We who remain on earth must endure until the joyful reunion in the mansions in the sky. That’s a certain hope.