professional photo of Pastor Gary Clark

A Christian Perspective on the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Pastor Gary Clark

The following is a letter I sent to our adult kids as an encouragement during the coronavirus pandemic. When I say a letter, it really is an adaption of a Rick Warren sermon.  It began as a kind of cathartic exercise in which I was preaching to my own soul.   

It is something that I needed to remember during these days in which we are experiencing losses/challenges of differing degrees; it is something I have done in my 40+ years of pastoral ministry; and something I could do as a “socially distancing” parent who wants to still speak into the lives of his family. 

My hope and prayer is that perhaps there might be a small nugget of encouragement for anyone who takes the time to read.  Stay safe and well.


Hi Guys,

No one has to tell us that life has changed.  These are days like none other.  They will challenge us in ways that we cannot even imagine.  What do you do when out of control circumstances invade our personal space?  How do you deal with the inevitable roller coaster of emotions?   How do you stay grounded and healthy for yourself and for those who need you?

coronovirus depiction

Well in the middle of any storm, as Christ followers, we know God has provided numerous indicators of his faithfulness.  For us as a family it includes

  • Each other,
  • We are blessed with resources/jobs that continue to provide,
  • Good present health,
  • Good homes in which to shelter,
  • Ability to communicate and even see each other through electronic engagement,
  • Friends who will support us as we support them.

All of these are windows through which we see and experience God’s goodness.

But all those reminders/windows into God’s provision are penultimate.  The ultimate is God’s word to us.  As a family, we are people of the book and so we do what Christians have done whenever they have faced difficult/challenging times; we engage The Book/The Bible/God’s Written Word to us.     So as your father, I want to turn our attention to the ancient truths of Psalm 42, praying that it will whisper truth and encouragement to our hearts so that we can, in turn, be an encouragement to others.   

Psalm 42 1-11

As the deer pants for streams of water,   so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.    When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food  day and night,  while men say to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember  as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude  leading the procession to the house of God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving  among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers
   have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—
  a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you downcast O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

The first whisper from this text is God saying “feel what you feel, it’s ok!”

You have heard the little cliché   “Denial is not a river in Egypt”.  Well sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  If we fancy ourselves as people who are strong and resilient;  or perhaps we think of ourselves as being strong in faith.  Those kind of perceptions can let us down in a time like this. They can lead us to have the dangerous the idea that fear, anger, sorrow, sadness, loneliness, doubt, grief, can/should be wiped away either by one act of our will or wave of the magic wand of faith.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   

We have only to look to Jesus to realize strength of character or depth of faith does not exempt us from real and/or negative emotions.  Jesus wept at the death of a friend; he brooded over Jerusalem and their failure to respond to him; in the garden of Gethsemane, before his death, his soul was heavy, burdened, and fearful. 

Emotional responses to difficult circumstances is normal and healthy.  They are god given release valves that are simply part of the deal….they are part of being human.    Notice how the Psalmist acknowledges his feelings: 

Psalm 42: 3, 5, 9, 10

3, My tears have been my food day and night,

 5 Why are you downcast O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?

9 I say to God my Rock,    “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning,   oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony

The first thing God might whisper is acknowledge what you’re feeling, because whatever it is….it’s ok.  The issue is not what we feel, the issue is what we do with what we feel.  We can’t get stuck or wallow in those feelings.  And the text goes on to help us deal with those feelings. 

The second thing God might whisper to you is “take time to remember!”

That is what the Psalmist did.  In fact twice in the psalm…..

4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul:

 6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you

In the midst of his own grief and depression he says I remember.  And God invites us to do the same. As a bereavement counselor, Uncle Paul says there three basic questions a person needs to ask when facing a significant loss…(and make no mistake, these days are filled with losses)

     1) What have I lost?

     2) What do I have left?

     3) What may still be possible for me?

We answer all those questions by remembering.

The list of what we have lost (even if it is temporary) is significant:

  • Ease of mind,
  • Normal routines,
  • Physical contact with friends,
  • Job and school disruption. 

You can make a long personal list.

But then God invites us to also remember what we have left… Remember what is still true, despite our loss.    The old hymn says “count your many blessings, name them one by one; count your many blessings see what God has done.”   Those blessings are significant and numerous.  As I said above we are blessed with

  • Resources/jobs that continue to provide,
  • Good present health,
  • Good homes in which to shelter,
  • Ability to communicate and even see each other through electronic engagement, friends who will support us as we support them.
  • Each other

But as Christ followers, what we remember goes deeper.

You see sometimes we forget that this is not all there is.  Sometimes we are so locked into this life that we forget about the next. We forget that everything in life is meant to be a window through which we see God and eternity 

  • In the splendor of creation we are meant to see a powerful and creative hand at work. 
  • In the gift of friendships and human love we are meant to see a loving God at work. 
  • In the blessings of life we can see God’s goodness.  
  • And in the tragedies of life we can feel his presence. 

Losses awaken us to brevity of life…they alert us to the fragility of life….they create within our hearts a recognition that this isn’t all there is….and a yearning for a hope which is not determined by feelings or circumstance.  And it is that hope in God that ultimately is an anchor for our hearts. 

For many, hope is controlled by feelings and circumstances.  Which is why  out of control circumstances often leaves people feeling hopeless.  But the good news is that   into that murky mixture of circumstance and feelings God invites us to remember that our hope is centered and framed in what Jesus has done. 

When Jesus told his disciples “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  He was telling them that circumstances do not have the last word.

When Paul writes in Romans 5:3….”we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope and hope does not disappoint” he is saying hope does not avoid heartache…instead it transforms it

So in the midst of his grief, David chose to remember and so can we….we can remember present blessings and they can become reminders of future hope that transcends feelings and circumstances.

Third, God whispers to us that we can stay connected to people. 

But the Psalmist says/does …

4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude
leading the procession to the house of God   with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

When faced with overwhelming grief, David remembers his connection to the people.  For him it was his faith community, which is significant.  But the bigger issue is connecting to people. 

Of course, that is probably the hardest to do in this present crisis.  But you can do some things.  You can call/face time/text each other.  You can do the same with those people with whom you don’t normally have time to connect (GG; cousins, old friends, etc.)  The point is, reach out and connect instead of simply hibernating. 

Finally, God would whisper to us….keep pursuing me.

In the psalm, David expresses a tenacious pursuit of God.

V 1, 2, 11

As the deer pants for streams of water,  so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.   When can I go and meet with God?

 11 Why are you downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,  for I will yet praise him,  my Savior and my God.        

Why pursue God?  Many reasons to pursue god. 

  • We pursue god because he is with us and wants to walk with us in our pain.
  • We pursue God because He is still working and wants to transform our pain
  • We pursue God because one day he will make it all OK….one day he will wipe away every tear and on that day there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain.

But there is another reason to pursue God.  We pursue god because he wants to use us.

Remember the questions uncle Paul uses when speaking about loss.  What have I lost? What do I have left? What may still be possible for me?  We pursue god, because he knows what is still possible for us….

The Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which god has prepare in advance for us to do.

The fact that we may have experienced frustration….the fact that we are in fearful times….the fact that our emotions go up and down does not change that.  God still has a future and a plan and a purpose for us. 

  • The first arena of “good works” is with your kids/family.  You have an incredible opportunity to display strength and grace to each other.  I am so proud of how you are facing these days and leading your families.
  • The second arena of “good works” is at work.  You have significant roles to play and giving your best to those you serve at work is important.  You can/are/will make a difference.
  • The third arena of “good works” are neighbors, friends, town people to whom you might serve.  That may be phone calls, texts.  That may be offering to shop for some who can’t get out.  It might be doing a service project as a family like making and sending cards to someone.  It might be giving blood at a blood center.  Be thoughtful and creative.  But stay connected and do something for someone else. 

And the amazing thing is that when we give ourselves to doing good, to serving, to getting involved in ways that move us beyond ourselves, it is both transforming and life giving.

So there you have it….four truths that your Dad is asking you to consider.  Four truths that I hope God will use to whisper to your heart as you face these challenging days. 

     Feel what you feel; whatever it is, it is ok.

     Take time to remember

     Stay connected with people

     Pursue God.  Keep your spiritual and servant antennas up.. 

Let me close with a story that Dan Taylor tells in his book, “Letters to my Children”.  You have heard it before….ok you have heard it many times.

When I was in the sixth grade I was an all-American. I was smart, athletic, witty, handsome and incredibly nice. Things went downhill fast in junior high, but for this one year at least I had everything.

Unfortunately, I also had Miss Owens for an assistant teacher. Miss Owens was a college girl who was practicing on us. She helped Mr. Jenkins, our teacher. Miss Owens also went to my church. She knew that even though I was smart and incredibly nice, there was a thing or two I could still work on.

One of the things you were expected to do in grade school was learn to dance. Every time we went to work on our dancing we did this terrible thing. And I mean it when I say it was terrible. I hope this kind of thing isn’t done anymore. The boys would all line up at the door of our classroom. Then, one at a time, each boy would pick a girl to be his partner. The girls all sat at their desks. As they were chosen, they left their desks and joined the snot-nosed kid who had honored them with his favor.

Believe me, the boys did not like doing this-at least I didn’t. But think about being one of those girls. Think about waiting to get picked. Think about seeing who was going to get picked before you. Think about worrying that you’d get picked by someone you couldn’t stand. Think about worrying whether you were going to get picked at all! Think if you were Mary.

Mary was a girl who sat up near the front on the right –hand side. She wasn’t pretty. She wasn’t real smart. She wasn’t witty. She was nice, but that wasn’t enough in those days. And  Mary certainly wasn’t athletic. In fast she’d had polio or something when she was small; one of her arms was drawn up, and she had a bad leg, and so she walked with a limp.

Here’s where Miss Owens comes in. Miss Owens took me aside one day and said, “Dan, next time we have square dancing, I want you to choose Mary.”

She may as well have told me to fly to Mars. It was an idea that was so new and inconceivable that I could barely hold it in my head. You mean pick someone other than the best (the prettiest, most popular) when my turn came? Pick Mary when Linda, Shelly or Doreen were available. That seemed like breaking a law of nature or something.

And then Miss Owens did a really rotten thing. She told me it was what a Christian should do. I knew immediately I was doomed. I was doomed because I knew she was right. It was exactly the kind of thing Jesus would have done. I was surprised in fact, that I hadn’t seen it on a Sunday-school-flannel-board yet: “Jesus Choosing the Lame Girl for the Yeshiva Dance.” It was bound to be somewhere in the Bible.

I agonized. Choosing Mary would go against all the coolness I had accumulated. It wasn’t smart. It wasn’t witty. Maybe it was nice, but even I didn’t want to be that nice.

The day came when we were to square dance again. Mr. Jenkins told Miss Owens to go up to the cafeteria to set up. Then, he lined up the boys by the door. It was worse than you think. If God really loved me, I thought, he will make me last. Then picking Mary will cause no real stir. I will have done the right thing, and it won’t have cost me anything.

You can guess where I was instead. For whatever reason, Mr. Jenkins made me first in line. (Had Miss Owens been talking to him?) There I was, first in line, my heart pounding-now I knew how some of the girls must have felt.

The faces of the girls were turned toward me, some smiling. I looked at Mary and saw that she was only half-turned to the back of the room, her face staring down at her desk. Mr. Jenkins said, “Okay Dan – choose your partner!”

I remember feeling very far away. I heard my voice say, “I choose Mary.”

Never has reluctant virtue been so rewarded. I still see her face undimmed in my memory. She lifted her head, and on her face, reddened with pleasure and surprise and embarrassment all at once, was the most genuine look of delight and even pride that I have ever seen, before or since. It was so pure that I had to look away because I knew I didn’t deserve it.

Mary came and took my arm, as we had been instructed, and she walked beside me, bad leg and all and we began to dance.  I never saw Mary after that year.  She moved away.  But I like to think that she has a fond memory of one day in 6 grade when a snot nosed kid chose her to dance…I know I do.

During this challenging season, when we may at times feel a bit crippled, but God comes and says I choose you……and he invites us to dance with him to make a difference with each other, with our kids and those around us…..I pray that god will give you the grace to hear his whisper and the ability to accept his invitation.


Footnotes:

Psalm 42:1 In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm.

Psalm 42:1 In Hebrew texts 42:1-11 is numbered 42:2-12.

Psalm 42:1 Title: Probably a literary or musical term

Psalm 42:4 See Septuagint and Syriac; the meaning of the Hebrew for this line is uncertain.

5 Comments

  1. smetoxen on March 27, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    I think this is a beautiful letter, Gary!

  2. Virginia Burlingame on March 27, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    well worth the read.

  3. Jan Pomeroy on March 28, 2020 at 1:12 am

    Good heart felt God letter.

  4. Aunt Katie Hedlund on March 28, 2020 at 4:04 am

    Your children are privileged to have you as their father. The word of God is the most important thing to share with your children. I’m so pleased that you are the husband of my niece, Connie, a wonderful professor of nursing. Love being related to you all. God bless you.

  5. Erick on March 28, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love the story at the end.
    Blessings to you, my friend.

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