Doldrums is a word that is used to describe a strip of ocean about 300 miles wide to the north of the equator where there is little to no wind. Sailors in more wind dependent times knew to avoid navigating into this area of the globe. Ships that wandered into the doldrums ran the risk of never returning or at least being dangerously delayed without any wind to fill their sails.
I think the doldrums are an apt metaphor for 2020. A sailor cannot well make plans in the doldrums as he awaits something outside of his control. A sailor cannot stir up the wind that he depends upon. And we cannot make this virus just vanish, so we can go about our normal lives.
I recognize at this point, we could embark on many debates about conspiracy theories. Blogging about Covid-19 right now is fraught with all kinds of pitfalls and land mines. I live in a state that has a movement to diminish the emergency powers of our governor. I have friends who have worked on an actual vaccine, where tests are being conducted in local facilities, while another pharmaceutical company is gearing up for mass production. So why would I call this the doldrums? Isn’t there a lot we can DO?
But as a pastor, I imagine that you expect me to be looking at this from a Christian and even Biblical perspective!
So here are five suggestions to consider while we try to church together in these doldrums.
1. Churching isn’t a real word, but it should be!
We have been rattled and disconnected through months of fear, anger, frustration, and various combinations of emotions. With this has come an increasing feeling of disconnection with others. I say often at ReCAST that God has designed us for face-to-face interaction. We have arms that hug those hurting. We have facial expressions that offer solidarity with another in grief. As much as we try to smile with our eyes, these masks still hide the care and concern our faces were designed to offer.
But as I have considered what it means to be the church in a pandemic, I have concluded that it requires action. It requires more intentional contact. It requires that we gather in whatever capacity we can to demonstrate love and faith. We need the gathering of God’s people to hear from him more than ever. And although many will not be able to gather for health reasons, those who are able should intentionally come together under the Word in community, for the growing of our faith. We must “church” which means GATHER. Gathering together is vital and by no means secondary to the practice of the Christian faith!
2. Don’t Waste the Boredom
The doldrums are a time of boredom. Just this morning I listened to a podcast by Dr. Albert Mohler in which he explored the nuanced differences between depression and boredom. As followers of Christ, we never lack something vital to do while in the hot boring days of the doldrums. We have His Word. We have injunctions to pray without ceasing. We have calls to love one another well. We do not lack beneficial things to do with this time we have been afforded in the doldrums.
3. Plan With Faith
It is a bit ironic that we have become so accustomed to consistent planning that a season like this throws us for a loop. What I mean is that we usually make plans two or three months down the road and they come to pass as planned! We have lost sight of what a gift this is to our culture and generation. Plans didn’t work that way even as recent as the frontier times. And throughout many places in the world, they are the exception rather than the rule. Our plans for a pastors conference in Uganda in 2017 were significantly curtailed by favorable, if not unseasonable, rains. And the pastors were weeding their gardens every morning instead of coming to the conference. Our plans were not realized by something as simple as good rains every night.
So let’s use this season of doldrums, to remind us of the faith with which we ought to make plans. The book of James encourages us to say, “if the Lord wills, we will do this or that . . .” All of our plans were supposed to be based on faith. So let’s continue the planning while trusting in God. Don’t give up planning just because things have decreased in surety. Just hold those plans you make as loosely as you should’ve been all along.
4. Embrace the Silence
Albert Mohler in the same podcast I referenced above, indicated that a study was conducted in which subjects were given the choice of sitting alone with their thoughts OR receiving negative stimulus. The majority accepted the negative stimulus. They preferred negative stimulation (think electric shock) to no stimulation.
I point this out primarily to highlight the status of mental health in our society. People do not want to have margins. We are a people who will keep busy, keep noisy, keep the stimulation going to avoid silence and introspection. All while God tells his people to “be still and know that I am God.” There is something to being still that highlights our trust in our Creator. When we are always on the move we are showing how much we depend on busyness and activity to cope.
God calls us to moments of introspection and quiet. And this may very well be one of those times He is calling us, on a larger scale, to listen.
5. Love Each Other
This is a season when a little bit of love can go along way. The unkindness and divisiveness in our culture set a dark backdrop allowing the light to shine even brighter. We need not perform epic, heroic acts of love to stand out in this current day. We need to only be a voice of calming kindness and hope to stand out.
We should be loving, understanding, and gracious within the church. We need to recognize that there are many various legitimate opinions about how to handle a pandemic. And our love for each other should drive us to compassionate responses to all.
And outside the church, we should find ourselves eager to express grace and hope! The world is a dark place without the light of the Son of God and His eternal kingdom. Can you feel compassion toward those who fear that this virus could take everything? Is it any wonder why many in our world are terrified of this virus? It can take away wealth, health, and even life.
But as those who are in Christ Jesus, we possess a hope that this virus cannot take away! How could we be loving in a time like this, and keep that message of hope to ourselves?
In these social doldrums, Christians should wait well. And that waiting doesn’t equal inactivity. Instead, that waiting involves a demonstration of expectancy and hope in the God who is directing history. And for now, he has us all in a windless season. And even in this, He is teaching us.