Paul Simon captures my sentiments about COVID19 in his song You Can Call Me Al: “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.” I don’t find COVID19 amusing anymore, not in the least.
I was asleep in Rwanda on Wednesday, March 11th, when my wife called me at 1:30 a.m. Rwandan time and said the president was closing the U.S. borders on Sunday. I had to get home before then or spend a long time in Rwanda. I like Rwanda, but I also like being at home with my wife. She made for me a reservation that night to fly home through Qatar on Saturday. The next day the Administration clarified that citizens would be admitted to the country but would need to go through quarantine.
It was good my wife acted fast nonetheless. The next day airlines started canceling all flights from Africa to Europe. Tickets for other routes became hard to come by.
Thus began my introduction to the pandemic. It was jolting and disruptive and cost me staying in Rwanda long enough to do a reconciliation practicum in a Rwandan prison. The virus and I got off to a bad start. Things between us have not improved.
New York State is doing better these days after some grim and frightening months. New Yorkers are enjoying a bit more freedom; our churches are free to meet in person if they follow strict safety protocols. Many are choosing to play it safe and postpone gathered in-person worship. Even when we are together, it feels awkward. There is an inevitable sense of wariness as we greet one another.
Americans in other places are suffering unprecedented infections and deaths. And even New Yorkers know the tide could turn against us at any time, and we would be sent back to our bunkers in quarantine. And there is the agony of what to do about students returning to school.
I really don’t find this stuff amusing anymore, really not amusing.
What we took to be a quarter mile race has turned into a marathon, and they keep moving the finish line.
I think about the Apostle Paul these days; he characterized the life of faith as a race to be run.
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24—27).
How do we exercise self-control and run this pandemic race successfully?
First, we need to change our expectations of ourselves and others. We are working harder and having fewer tangible to results to show for our efforts. We think if we try harder and put in more time, we will overcome these challenges. So we lurch ahead doing all we can at every moment; but when running a marathon, the key is to find a rhythm and gait that are sustainable for the distance. We must run in a way that preserves our health—emotional, physical, and spiritual.
The Mongol Derby is the longest horse race in the world, spanning 600 miles. It recreates the messenger system established by Genghis Khan in 1224.
Lara Palmer, in 2013, was the first woman to win this grueling challenge and came to the event with no experience in marathon horse racing, none.
When asked how she did it, she replied that one must find a rhythm with the horse, get in sync with the gate of your animal. She rode 70 different horses during the trek and had to adapt to each horse’s characteristics. It was like riding 70 different races.
During the race, each rider must take breaks; and at the break, event officials measure the horse’s heart rate. If the rate does not return to normal within a set period of time, the rider is docked 2 hours. The point is the riders must pace themselves. Abusing themselves and their horses is a losing strategy in the long run.
So it is in any marathon. We must exercise self-control and pace ourselves so we can keep running and not fall ruined by the side of the road.
The COVID19 pandemic is a marathon; it is not a sprint, not even a miler. It makes a cross country race look brief. We cannot see the finish line, so we must find a rhythm we can sustain for as long we shall run.
A rhythm that will sustain us consists of sleep, prayer, work, and play. Everyday. Keeping track of the balance between these disciplines will carry us to the finish line, whenever and wherever that might be.
The writer of Hebrews, after cataloguing centuries of hardship and suffering of the faithful, writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God [Heb. 12:1—2].
We are not the first people to run with perseverance a race fueled by faith, inspired by the one who always ran faithfully and finished well.
Sleep, pray, work, and play—every day. Start keeping track of your rhythm and keep your daily gait sustainable.
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State