Care and compassion during COVID-19
How can we show the love of Christ effectively, sustainably and safely during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Christian care is distinctive because it’s prayerful, pastoral and practical. Caring for others in a Christ-like way comes from a living faith, through which we act on God’s commands to love our neighbour as ourselves, do good to all people, and share the gospel and love of Jesus with those who don’t know him—all to the glory of God (Mark 12:31; Gal 6:10; Matt 28:19-20; 1 Cor 10:31).
This kind of love is more than an emotion or feeling; it’s intentional, active and involves sustainable self-sacrifice and keeping Jesus at the centre of all that we do. All love ultimately comes from God and every Christian has a role to play, however big or small, because Jesus first loved us, gave his life for us and calls us to love others (1 John 4:19; John 13:35).
So what can we do to reflect these spiritual realities in our practical care of others?
Pray and be a calm presence
God is the one who is in control and sovereign over all things, and he’s promised to comfort and sustain us during the storms of life. Prayerful dependence upon God is therefore essential. We must be diligent in prayer and, among other things, ask God to:
- bring an end to the pandemic
- give governing authorities wisdom in their management of the crisis
- bring healing and comfort to those who are sick
- protect health care workers
- open hearts and minds to the gospel, as we witness to and serve others.
We should also pray that God, by his Spirit, would fill us with his love and peace so that we can be a calm, godly presence to others. We naturally tend to feel calmer with someone who isn’t anxious, and as we model Christ to others we can convey that God has not forsaken us. In addition, when we are calm, our emotions are less likely to overwhelm us and rob us of our capacity to help others.
Keep in touch with people around us, particularly the vulnerable, isolated or needy
Reaching out to others and listening well is one of the greatest gifts we can give at this time, whether on the phone, by video, through social media, or having a well-spaced chat in the street. As others have pointed out, social distancing and self- isolation mean ‘spatial’ and not ‘relational’ distancing.
Listening is an act of love, where we communicate that someone is important to us and reflect the fact that God is always ready to listen to us. Be mindful of those who may be going through a particularly difficult time due to major health issues, disability, mental ill health, financial struggles or other circumstances. Understand that being isolated and feeling alone exacerbates suffering. Don’t rely on people to reach out to you: take the initiative. Ask, “How are you going?” and listen attentively to their reply.
Pray that God will help you listen well and give you the words to say. Seek to understand how they’re feeling. Listen for the emotions being expressed and respond with empathy: “It sounds as if self-isolation is really getting you down; I’m sad that you haven’t spoken to anyone this week.”
Ask open questions (which can’t be answered with a yes or no)— however never pressure anyone to share more than they feel comfortable with. Remember, people deal with stress and suffering in their own way. Be non-judgemental and offer to pray and help in practical ways, as appropriate. Be dependable and follow through on any promises you make.
Look for ways to show kindness
Unexpected kindness can mean a lot to someone who’s sick, isolated or afraid. For example, if you’re well and you’ve had no close contact with someone who’s sick or self-isolating, you might like to put together a care package, cook a meal or offer to run some errands. But pay scrupulous attention to personal hygiene and minimizing the spread of infection—we want to spread loving kindness only!
The COVID-19 outbreak provides an opportunity for us to reach out beyond our family and church family into the community. Find out what your church is doing in the community; join your local community Facebook page or search #ViralKindness to see how you can help your neighbours. However, be realistic about what you can and can’t do and exercise wise love.
We also need to keep in mind that we’re all in need of God’s grace and we’re not exempt from difficult times, so we need to be willing to both give and receive care. We have a tendency to want to conceal our neediness, but serving one another humbly in love (Gal 5:13) requires us to be humble and willing to let people into our lives, to receive as well as give.
Point one another to God and his promises to us, through Jesus
In the Bible, God has revealed to us how he cares for us and where true hope and meaning can be found. The Bible reassures us that God can be trusted because of his steadfast character, and that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a solid reason for hope. As we care for others, we therefore want to encourage one another to look to God first and to depend upon him in all circumstances.
We want to remind one another that our circumstances change but God doesn’t. This may be as simple as sharing a Scripture passage that has personally comforted or encouraged you. We now have an opportunity to explore different ways of using social media to continue meeting as a community and engaging with God through his word. As people increasingly feel that things are out of their control, COVID-19 also presents us with opportunities for sharing the good news of Jesus and pointing others to the God who is in control. Pray that God will continue to open opportunities for us, and that we will find creative ways to share where face-to-face contact is no longer possible.
Know our limits and care in ways that are sustainable and safe
Finally, we need to care for ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually to be able to continue to care for others. This includes adhering to the latest government health directives, getting adequate rest and sleep, and making sure we’re balancing how much news we’re watching with adequate time spent in prayer and God’s word.
We should also keep in mind that there will be situations where the person we’re helping requires more expert care than we can offer. While we can continue to support them, we mustn’t go beyond our expertise. If necessary, we must assist someone in seeking expert help through their doctor or other appropriate channels.
This difficult season presents us with many opportunities to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways and to share the real hope we have in him. Please see my book Together Through the Storm for more practical guidelines on Christian care based on the word of God and in Christian hope.