When I walk at the park next to my house, my routine is to make eye contact with the passersby. I’ve found that no one really does that anymore. I do it to be kind, and I want to remember the people who come to the park so that I can have a gospel conversation with them at some point. Dog walkers are the friendliest by far, and every dog person loves to show off their four-legged prize. (I ought to know, I have one!)
In general, I think people have lost much of their ability to be social during social isolation. Earbuds are the great un-equalizer. In my experience, if people can’t hear you, they often act as if they can’t see you either. Truthfully, I’ve never been upset by people not making any gesture of friendliness—until now. The mandated social distancing, brought on by the global pandemic, is making it all the harder to engage anyone with a “hello.” The importance of physical social distancing has led to social isolation.
When I was walking at the park, a young woman left the walking path and went completely out of her way to go around me. She didn’t even give me the courtesy of eye contact. It reminded me of several weeks ago when I got near an elderly man in the grocery store. He mumbled, “Distancing!” without even looking at me. In both instances, I felt like I had cooties or smelled bad. I felt embarrassed. I felt shunned. But then I felt contempt and anger take over.
I understand the need for social distancing and the fear that many are experiencing. If I didn’t have a treasure trove of peace and hope from Jesus, I’d likely feel the same paranoia and fear that I saw in the young woman at the park or the elderly man in the grocery store. At the same time, the knowledge that I won’t have a face-to-face conversation with hardly anyone outside of my family right now makes me feel estranged from the world around me. And it has caused me to respond in anger when people take social distancing to a new level of social isolation or rude behavior.
I knew that my emotional reactions to both of these people were wrong, and I later repented for being self-righteous. And since then, I have wondered: how I might I navigate this season with a spirit of love, rather than with a cold-shoulder or anger?
I recently heard a new phrase that is helping me to that end. Author and speaker John Eldridge is using the phrase “benevolent detachment” instead. This new perspective has allowed me to consider how I might consecrate this time of isolation to the glory of God instead of feeling smug, exclusive, or disappointed.
This unique time did not catch God by surprise and it doesn’t change who I am. Rather, it reveals who I already am—including the ways I can grow in faith. Do I trust God’s sovereignty? Do I trust those who God appointed over me in government? Do I trust God with the health of my family and friends? Do I show understanding to those who are panicked because they don’t have the same peace and hope that I do? Do I look for opportunities to give grace to those I am privileged to talk with? And, finally: am I praying that I can eventually answer “yes” to all these questions?
I sure hope that I soon can! But it will only be through the grace and mercy of God that I will.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path” (Prov. 3:5-6).