How to Navigate Re-entry into the World after a Pandemic
As our country slowly begins opening back up, many of us are wondering how to adjust back to normal life after a pandemic. During these past few months, we have confined ourselves to our homes, adjusted to tele-work or unemployment, and restricted our social interactions to a small number of people.
While some are ready to return to normal life, there are others filled with concern about the spread of and exposure to the Coronavirus as businesses re-open and people gather. Whether you find yourself in one boat or the other, we can all relate in the confusion of how to navigate these uncharted waters.
What is the “Right Way?”
I recently listened to a Sunday message that spoke directly to how God desires us to live in this tension of what is the “right way” for re-entry. The pastor focused on Romans 14, which was written by Paul to provide guidance during a time the church was divided on how to apply Old Testament laws after Jesus had already fulfilled the law.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the Old Testament law itself, but to put it simply, some people felt a conviction to continue practicing various aspects of the law, such as not eating meat or practicing Sabbath on a single day of the week, while others felt they were released from the burden of continuing these practices because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.
Which way is right? What should be done if one person feels it necessary to refrain from eating meat, but another feels it is okay to eat meat? The Church needed direction on how to move forward with the differing ideas of the application of the Old Testament law in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Similarly, we need guidance on how to navigate the differences of opinions on the pace and method of re-integrating to normal life after a pandemic. Paul’s words in Romans 14 have great application for us as we figure out this unprecedented time.
Side note: I have decided to use The Message version for easier understanding and application when I reference scripture below.
Decide What Is Best for You
You first need to determine what you believe to be the best course of action for you as you enter back into normal life. Are you at a high risk of contracting the Coronavirus? Do you have family members or close friends that might be at a high risk of the virus?
If you answered no to both of these, you might feel that you are more comfortable to begin gathering with others and returning to normal daily activities. If you answered yes, you might feel a conviction to continue limiting your exposure and taking extra precautions such as wearing a mask in public and refraining from any sort of gathering.
The other question to reflect on is what pace of re-entry is going to cultivate peace instead of anxiety? What needs of yours are most important to meet first (i.e. relational, vocational, spiritual and emotional needs)? The point is, each person’s situation and circumstances are unique to them, and this will guide their comfortability level and pace with re-entry. You need to choose what is going to promote your overall sense of well-being, safety, and health.
Paul discusses how this was the case for the church.
“Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”
Romans 14:5-9, The Message
Ultimately, Paul is making the point that we have the ability to choose what is best for ourselves as long as we keep a pure heart and remember that it is the Lord to whom we are accountable.
Allow Others to do the Same Without Passing Judgment
As stated above, we are all unique in our experience of this pandemic and our perspective on how to move forward. When we differ in these perspectives, it is our tendency to exercise judgment on those who are not doing it “our way.” This is exactly what was happening in the early church, and Paul continues on in Romans 14 to describe how to treat one another when convictions come into conflict.
“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.
If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died.”
Romans 14:13-15, The Message
Paul is explaining here that we are to respect others in their own conviction of what might be right for them, even if it is different than what we have decided to be best for ourselves. Not only that, but we should not be getting in the way of what someone else has decided is best for them.
For example, if you are comfortable to not wear a mask, but you have a friend or a client that is not comfortable with that, it would be the kind and respectful thing to still wear a mask around that person for their sake. Another example is if you do not feel comfortable yet to gather with others, you can still allow those who are comfortable to gather the freedom to do that rather than arguing against their actions with judgment. It is best to reflect on the following question: Are my actions cultivating love and respect for those around me?
These unprecedented times are not easy to navigate. But, if we can keep in focus pursuing our own health and wellness while at the same time respecting one another in that process, then we will be able to slowly reconvene to normal life in a way that unites us in love and mutual support for one another.
If you are interested in hearing the sermon I mentioned, see the link below: