The entire world has unexpectedly changed in two weeks time. The deaths from COVID-19 are heartbreaking. We grieve with their loved ones and hope for the restoration of people all over the world who have been infected.  

If anyone had suggested such a thing could happen, only the conspiracy theorists would have said, “Yeah, verily.” The rest of us would have rolled our eyes, washed our hands with haphazard concern and kept on wasting our toilet paper. We didn’t think this was even possible. 

No school. No sports. No cultural events. No museums. Billions (with a “B”) of people are out of work. No jobs. No income. No childcare. Not enough test kits. Healthcare providers are exhausted, and now they’re getting sick. The world is running out of face masks and hand sanitizer. No one can tell us how long this will last. 

It’s easy to see everything that is missing and focus on what we lack. However, the crisis also has a “flipside.” We have something that has been desperately needed: an unavoidable time out. At last, there is an abundance of space for prayer. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to stop and listen to God. In the silent isolation, He patiently waits to remind us of what is really important. 

Our entire world needed to stop and remember God. 

Media and devices cement us together like never before. We are declared friends with people we’ve never met. With fresh and focused eyes, I have realized that our prayers are much bigger than conversations between God and us. We are powerfully united with other people of faith. Prayer takes us into each other’s homes and hearts and hospitals and lives even when our physical presence is forbidden. Even when we feel isolated, prayer unifies us into one voice. 

I woke up in the night, wrote something in the dark, went back to sleep, and this morning couldn’t remember what was so important. Here it is: “Introspective suffering stirs up retrospective gratitude.” When we look inside and find suffering we cannot change for ourselves, we also find something else — gratitude. Suffering forces us to appreciate the many things we had previously. 

I can’t remember the last time I thanked God for the hug of a friend, a lingering restaurant lunch, bottled water and toilet paper, standing in line at the grocery store without wondering if I was positioned too close to the person in front of me. I took my health for granted; now I do a daily check to make sure I don’t have a sore throat and a fever. Then I inspect my husband and give thanks.

COVID-19 will eventually pass, and activities will gradually resume. However, we will never be quite the same. The financial losses will be catastrophic for many people. The death toll around the world will be tragic. Awareness of our vulnerability as a species will linger for a very long time. 

I hope good things will remain also. Let’s choose to be a grateful people who no longer take our amenities for granted. Let’s keep the prayerful and sacred space afforded us during this time of social isolation and canceled activities. Let’s celebrate our health and thank God for each day as a precious gift.

More than anything else, let’s choose to remain connected to one another in our families, neighborhoods and globally. If everything was suddenly taken away, it is our relationships that have real value.

Scripture is overflowing with encouragement for times like these. David wrote, “I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalms 34:4)

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Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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