When I heard the news that my mom’s skilled nursing facility would likely be closing to visitors for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, I burst into tears. So much could happen in two weeks, and how could I not be there to support my mom? I was accustomed to visiting several times a week, sometimes daily. Now, I was being cut off.
We’d been discussing wheelchairs and communication boards during Mom’s care plan meeting when I broached the subject I’d been hearing more and more about on the news. Will the facility be restricting visitors because of COVID-19? The staff nodded their heads surreptitiously even while officially telling me to contact the executive director for more details. Would it be this week? I asked, ignoring their “official” advice, and when I saw more nods, I knew I’d have to act fast to get Mom and myself prepared. It was already Wednesday.
That was just the first dose of the hard medicine the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to take every day since. It was a harbinger of how this virus, and its necessary social distancing, would affect our lives here in the Midwest and around the whole world. By the next day, my husband’s employer asked all who could to begin working at home. The day after that, the boys’ school was called off for two weeks when they’d be doing eLearning instead.
Day after day more and more events, activities, and services were closed and cancelled. Day after day I deleted items from my calendar: My two-year-old niece’s birthday party: canceled. Mom’s cortisone injections for her shoulders: cancelled. A day-long work conference: cancelled. Normal Sunday services at church: canceled.
Within just two weeks, the whole state has been closed for business, with all Hoosiers asked to stay home except for essential activities. And we’re all reeling. The boys want to be with friends. Steve wishes his new basement office wasn’t so cold. I, used to working at home alone, am getting used to multiple distractions throughout the day. Not to mention the stress of daily updates to COVID-19 case counts and death rates, which mount at about the same rate as the daily changes to our public and personal lives.
Yet even as my anxiety remains high over so much change and uncertainty, I’ve also felt a strange sense of relief to have an empty calendar and free time to read, create, bake, and even rest. Despite the real dangers of this virus and the extreme suffering many are experiencing, I’m grateful that both mine and my husband’s work has continued mostly unchanged for now, that our boys have the technology and the space to do school at home, that despite store shortages we have the food and supplies we need, and that we are able to share with friends and family members in need.
It’s a paradox, really, that in the midst of a pandemic we can be both fearful and faithful, both anxious and calm, both careful and brave. But it’s not just in pandemics where both/and make more sense than either/or. It’s in all of life. God’s kingdom is filled with the mysterious, confusing, and glorious paradoxes of hope in the midst of suffering, love shown boldly to enemies, and life out of a dead man’s tomb. The more fully we embrace the full range of what this pandemic has to offer, the easier it will be for us to accept all of God’s work in our lives and in the world.
In her book, Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World, Jen Pollock Michel talks about the key paradoxes of Christianity, not as unfortunate inconsistencies we need to apologize for, but as touchstones of the kingdom of God. She traces the “tangles” of paradox through the life of G.K. Chesterton, the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British writer and thinker, who came to Christian faith because he found its ability “to maintain paradox provided convincing proof of its reliability.” For him, the “emotionally satisfying part of Christianity wasn’t just its linear logic” but also what Michel calls “hospitality to paradox―that its facts were often its mysteries.”
I think this is why the Christian faith can offer real hope in such trying times like the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t have to put on a brave face and act like hope makes everything easy. We don’t have to ignore the real suffering to maintain our belief in God’s power and plan. We don’t have to sit around doing nothing because we believe prayer changes things. In all of these things and more, the and of Christianity is what helps us endure. “God is the author of and,” As Michel writes, “and biblical faith doesn’t have to be ugly, strident dogmatism, thistled with either and or and prickly to the point of drawing blood.”
It’s a wonder, really, these paradoxes of God’s kingdom that allow us to live even through a pandemic looking for hope around every corner. In fact, you might even say that paradox is the mother of wonder, creating tension and mystery and awe where there might otherwise be only confusion. Does that mean we can never be certain about anything? Of course not. “Let us have certainty when it’s available,” Michel writes. But she adds this: “Let us have humility when it’s not. Let’s remember that paradox, with its attendant wonder, is its own way into the meekness of wisdom James describes in his letter.”
It may be summer before I see Mom in person again. Summer, before we’re able to eat in restaurants and gather with friends and go to movies again. Summer, before the tension eases in our shoulders and the fear stops seizing our hearts with each new count of cases and deaths. But in the meantime, we’ll have lived through the wonder of spring, the paradox of life emerging from death once again.