There’s no denying the stresses and strains that are weighing heavily on us all day by day. This pandemic has meant big changes – and many of those changes hurt.
As with any difficult time, what we all need most is Jesus. Our priority is to point people to Christ, to listen to his word and to turn to him in prayer. Our call is to spur one another on, as a community of believers, all limping together with our eyes fixed on eternity.
But what about physical help? Is there anything we can do there?
God has always been keen for his children to care for the physical needs of those around. Whether that’s the food distribution of Acts 6 or the early church’s passion for adopting abandoned children, faith requires deeds (the little letter of James reminds us of that full well). Of course, meeting practical needs always works best when we know people well – it’s better to meet their real needs rather than the needs we imagine they have. So deep relationships, honest conversation and humble listening are good places to start. But, in these Covid times what form might that care take?
Food. Christians are renowned for being generous with food. The biblical mandate for hospitality, the call to care for widows and orphans, all spur us to shop, cook and share. And a delivery of food can lighten the most struggling heart. A word of caution though … defaulting to a meal or a banana loaf isn’t always the wisest move. I was chatting to a friend who had received 7 cakes in one week when ill – generous to be sure but neither nutritious nor helpful (and, sadly, most ended up in the bin). If people are struggling to make ends meet, far better to supply food staples (or ask for a shopping list). If people are sick, far better to ask them what they feel able to eat (that might be a lasagne – it might be soup). If people are depressed, sugar may bring a smile (and we all enjoy a spot of sugar sometimes!) but fruit baskets – or something from a local speciality shop – may do their body far more good. If people are frazzled, a voucher for their favourite take away may help far more than a meal that needs to be cooked and then containers washed and returned.
Money. The challenges of furlough, the tragedy of businesses going under, the reality of unemployment all put financial strain on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes the thought of giving financially makes us squirm. It feels too “un-British” to simply hand over some cash. And there can be merit in churches setting up specific funds to which congregation members can give – and from which congregation members can receive – financial help. That helps anonymise the process for a start. But, even if it’s culturally odd, pursuing a church where no-one is in need because people willingly share is an Acts 4 call. Maybe there’s a need to help with heating bills, shoes for the kids, even printer ink – if people trust us, they won’t mind if we ask. And, if money feels too stark, a voucher can be an alternative that brings help and hope.
Relationship. For some, the isolation of lockdown is crushing. Even with the provision of a bubble, people can go for days without seeing another human face to face. A simple walk – or even a knock on the window and a passing wave – can remind people they are loved. But phonecalls too can bring huge joy – phonecalls that happen simply because we care rather than because we have something we need to ask are a rarity in our busy world. It’s not just the lonely who need our time, it’s the over-burdened too. After a week juggling working from home, learning at home and doing everything else at home, a stressed parent may well appreciate some non-family company on a short walk around the local park. But if that’s too much, how about a hand-written note? It doesn’t need to be a long letter, just a card that will make someone smile.
Childcare. Unless we are in a specific childcare bubble, babysitting isn’t an option right now. But how about spending 15 minutes listening to a child reading over Zoom? Or you can read to them! Sending age-appropriate activities to keep them occupied (from quizzes to stickers to baking kits to building blocks to sports challenges) can help parents have at least a few moments when they don’t have to think of something creative to do. (Always checking with the parents first, unless you know the family really well, of course!)
Petcare. Even the simple act of taking the dog for a walk can relieve the stress on a family or individual in need (and probably make your exercise time more pleasant too!)
Practical Tasks. We’re limited in what we can do in each other’s homes but delivering shopping to the infirm, putting out the bins for an elderly neighbour, brushing up someone’s CV, giving hints to the tech-challenged on how to mute themselves on video calls, even helping someone with their tax return over the phone can lighten the load. We all have gifts to share – it will help others and maybe go some way to restore a sense of purpose to those of us who have lost much in recent months.
Nap. Really? Well, yes. Having just an occasional moment when you and a friend agree to turn off your respective phones, leave the rest of the households behind, close the door and retreat to your beds for just 40 minutes of recharge, can be a beautiful thing. If left to our own devices we often find a reason not to rest but if we keep each other accountable it’s more likely to happen… Give it a try. Genuinely… Sleep well!