To Isolate or Not, Such is Our Reality

This is our pastor’s article for the September edition of our congregational newsletter.

The Old Testament doesn’t view life and death as mere biological facts.  Read Scripture, and you will find both death and life as an interpretive lens to help understand reality.  Within the words of Scripture, life flows with fruitfulness and abundance, for both the community and individual.  Not so for death, which serves as a catch-all for suffering, poverty, oppression, and isolation.  A few days before dying, Moses reminded a people ready to enter the Promised Land, to choose between “life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15).  For those on the side of life, God “is your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20).

The Bible’s linking of death to isolation does cause me to think.  Aren’t we all, today, in some way, required to live separate lives?  Yes, and most of us aren’t happy about this either—I’m not.  Never in our lifetimes, did we, as a nation, take such drastic measures to “distance” ourselves from others.  Yet, here we are, all fumbling through this the best we can, forced to live by “new rules.”

Consider how God created us?  Each animal came paired with another, not only for procreation but for companionship.  After forming Adam, God declared he should not be alone, so He made Adam a counterpart, Eve, similar but also opposite to him in nature.  Thus, creation itself reveals us as social creatures, though some are much more so than others. 

Unlike other living beings, a human brain comes with a far bigger neocortex, the brain’s outer portion.  The neocortex deals with “social cognition.”  These are conscious thought, language, regulation of behavior and emotions, and the capacity to comprehend others’ feelings and intentions.  More than any other creature, God “hard-wired” our brains to interact with others.

The flip side of being together is isolation.  Right now, our everyday reality is one of all doing our part to hinder the spread of the COVID pandemic.  Though doing this does exact a price.

The effects of isolation are numerous, most of which are not beneficial.  Hmm, blood pressure often goes up, and you become more susceptible to infection.  Wow, what a horrific irony!  Living apart from others even increases the probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Like any of us need to become more forgetful or deteriorate from distorted decision-making abilities!

Nevertheless, you and I are existing in this alternate reality, which none of us chose.  How are we to muddle through this?  Remember, we are all meandering through this maze for the first time.  So, you, me, our government, and our medical representatives will all mess up.  Realize this.

Here’s what not to do.  The Small Catechism offers us some excellent advice, “We are to fear and love God, so we do not lie about, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor.”

The virus, or should I say our response, separates us from one another in many ways.  Now, you may be staying at home because of your immune system.  If so, others (I think) are honoring your intentions and staying away.  Most of us are striving to respect your health needs by not dropping by for a visit.  So, please don’t think others may no longer like or care for you.  No, this is part of the fallout of isolation.  Normality will one day return, though this may still be many months away.

Here’s what you should do.  The Catechism continues, “defend [your neighbor], speak well of him, and see his actions in the best possible light.”  Be aware nothing may be different between you and someone else; however, our perceptions may now differ.  Hey, this situation has been lumbering along for what, some six months!  Don’t turn another wanting to keep you healthy into him or her abandoning you.

Now, you might be thinking, “Pastor, sure, I accept what you’re saying can be true, but this isn’t affecting me.”  Are you certain?  Perhaps, it’s just a question of how much and in what way!  By acknowledging this, when stray thoughts pop into your head, you can better understand and handle them.

Turn on the news.  Is our nation not going through a bit of “crazy time,” way beyond the usual hyperbole of an election year?  Yes!  So, this can also happen to an individual.  Maybe not you.  Either way, thinking about this might help you better relate to others.

In the last two months, a couple of situations came up, which required me to spend considerable time with a few folks, contacting family, and making sure everyday life pressed on.  These events helped me out of my seclusion bubble (though all the mask-wearing was not fun).

Still, I find myself a little depressed, and whatever I do seems to take longer.  For months now, seeing, laughing, and visiting with so many of you remains on hold.  Oh, how I miss enjoying life with you.  Should we have a COVID party and be done with all this?  Oh, this tempts me, but this is only the madness of my isolation breaking out.

No one thrives when living in seclusion, not you nor your pastor.  For now, this is something we must endure because we’re supposed to.  So, let love continue to bond us together.  In days such as these, if your health demands you to isolate yourself, I will honor this.  But, if you want me to “break” into your isolation, please tell me!  You’re not the only one going stir crazy!

Oh, one more matter.  I don’t know how all of you are doing.  Sheri has been checking up on many of you because she misses you, too.  She’s also relaying to me if she feels any of you may need or desire a visit, helping me know where to focus.  I’m glad she’s doing this because she’s better at phone conversations than I am.

Still, this does not take the place of your pastor or elders.  Here’s how you can help.  Call your elder.  Let him know what’s going on.  Remember, if you wish to pass on a good word, chat, or help him be mindful of something, he’s your first person to call.  Call me as well.  Proper communication always goes in both directions.

Let’s do our best to be here for one another.  Let’s move forward in new hearts, all to extend an extra heaping of grace.  Life is too precious to do otherwise.  No matter the health needs or if in some virus-free quarantine, let’s turn this enforced isolation on its head and come out all the better!  Amen.