Lorraine Murray

Let’s practice social distancing — but not from God

Years ago, I was considering volunteering at a nearby hospital, and when I met the director of volunteer services, she said volunteers get free parking in the deck.

I then sheepishly admitted I preferred parking in the lot, because I didn’t feel safe in gigantic decks. She chuckled and said, “I didn’t think a religion columnist would be afraid of anything!”

Well, she was quite wrong. As a columnist, I write about my own struggles, which often are shared by readers. These struggles include facing fears and trying to overcome them — not always successfully.

Fear now has sunk its claws into the depths of many hearts, as the coronavirus continues its malicious spread around the globe. What was once normal has become extraordinary.

People who climbed into cars and headed to work now hunker down in front of laptops at home. Others who have lost jobs struggle to survive. Folks who once frequented churches and synagogues now make do with online services.

And something as simple as grocery shopping has become treacherous for people whose health conditions— or age— make them especially vulnerable to contracting this illness.

So here’s a confession from this religion columnist, who’d love to tell you she never struggles with fear. Who’d love to assure you that she sails into the grocery store, merrily pushing her cart around — but that would be untrue.

In fact, I often awaken at 5 a.m. to ponder terrifying “what ifs.” What if my family members become ill? And if I get sick, who would care for me?

And then I remember what I wrote in my journal, shortly after my husband died: “Lean on your faith.”

Leaning on faith means praying for the victims of this illness, the medical personnel working non-stop to care for them, and the clergy courageously tending to their flocks.

Relying on faith means creating ministries that don’t require face-to-face contact, such as telephoning people who are frightened and alone, and crave the sound of a human voice.

Leaning on faith also entails honesty with God, who knows every inch of our hearts. For example, it’s OK to to admit that sometimes our faith falters.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells a father whose son desperately needs healing: “If you can believe, all things are possible for he who believes.” The man replies tearfully, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

This father was unflinchingly honest, and his words are etched on many hearts.

Faith comes and goes like the tides, sometimes strong and hearty, at other times just a trickle. There’s no reason to beat ourselves up because we’re not perfect.

No reason to compare ourselves to John or Susan, whose faith seems healthier than ours.

We’re God’s children, and he knows how often we stumble and fall. Think about the times you’ve seen a toddler trip and topple over, and start to cry. How quickly you picked up the little one and dried the tears — which is what God longs to do for us.

Esther’s prayer in the Bible speaks to my heart: “Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God.” She also beseeches, “Turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”

We must physically distance ourselves from others to prevent the virus spreading, but we needn’t separate ourselves from God. Instead, let’s cling to him, and trust that he hears our every prayer.

Fear can be a powerful destructive force, but faith can be stronger. Fear can shatter our peace, but faith can restore it. Fear can knock us down, but faith will help us up. Let’s pray for each other, dear readers, and for the whole world.

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Lorraine’s email address is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com

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