A reason to sing in a time of fear

The last time I sang in public was two Sundays ago. It wasn’t really something I could contain; it burst from inside of me. You see, I had just said “hello” to a stranger walking past me. I realize this sounds a little strange. To explain what was happening in that moment, I have to explain what I realized in that moment, and how that realization changed the way I interact with the world.

The story starts, as everything does these days, with COVID-19. Like everyone else, my own life has been altered by the steps that our society is taking to attempt to flatten the curve. But at least for me, the changes to the rhythm of my life have been less jarring than the sense of fear that seems to permeate our society. Of course, fear is not an unreasonable feeling right now. Our cities have become empty, millions of people are not able to work or have lost their jobs altogether, and we get constant stories about overflowing hospitals and thousands of new cases each day.

I had been trying to fight the fear within myself for the past couple of weeks. I’d often feel that I was losing when I went on a walk. As I walked past people—at a nice, safe, distance, mind you—they would avoid looking at me, as if the virus transmits through eye contact. I found myself doing the same thing, each time feeling the fear dig itself a little deeper into me. Yet it felt like this was the only response I could have. Put another way, I was reactive: I felt like the stimulus I was experiencing (global pandemic, mass shutdowns, widespread uncertainty) necessarily determined my response (self-isolation driven).

A reactive mindset: the stimulus dictates the response.

As you can imagine, this felt terrible. When I’m in a reactive paradigm, I feel trapped by my circumstances and by every negative thought and emotion that comes my way. It feels almost impossible to be creative, joyful, able to serve others, or show love and compassion–everything that we need during this time.

But here’s what I realized that day: I don’t need to live in a reactive paradigm. I can choose to live differently. Jesus did this himself. Just a few days before he was going to be brutally tortured and killed, Jesus says this:

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” John 12:23-28

Jesus recognized that suffering and hardship are not things that need to be run away from. In fact, they are often the forge through which we are purified. “But if it does, it produces many seeds.” Rather than try to live a life without suffering, he rooted his decisions in his identity and his relationship with his Father. He modeled for us a new paradigm, one that is proactive instead of reactive.

A proactive mindset: our response are driven by our own decisions, which themselves are driven by our God-given identity and his promises.

During my walk, living proactively was as simple as choosing to smile and say hello to my neighbor instead of averting my eyes. Rather than be driven by fear, I could choose to show a small act of kindness. Indeed, it was a small act. But what gave me so much joy was realizing that I could choose to live my entire life driven by God’s promises rather than by my circumstances–whether that was in saying hello to my neighbor or in larger ways:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:32-34

I hope that as you read this, you too can feel the excitement of what it means to live a proactive life driven by God’s promises rather than the circumstances you’re in. This is one of the great gifts that we are given by God, and I believe that it is one of the keys to understanding scriptures like Matthew 11:28-30, Philippians 4:11, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. Our world right now needs many more people who live in this way. Let it be us.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10

Footnote: if you’ve read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, you’ll recognize the figures I’ve included. The first figure is essentially the same, but I’ve made one key change to the second compared to what is presented in Covey’s book: I’ve added God’s promises as the source of our decisions. In the 7 Habits, the decisions of proactive people flow out of their mission statement, core values, and fundamental identity. For the Christian, this fundamental identity stems from our status as a member of God’s kingdom and family–wholly loved and living in the transformative hope of the resurrection.