By Landon Moore
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a terrible toll on the world’s economy, as well as on our relationships, mental health, and lives overall.
In this crisis, you may have been laid off from work, or know someone who was forced to close their business and liquidate financial assets. With job loss and economic collapse, one can wrestle with the demon of meaninglessness. This oppressive force need not be a demonic entity, but it does come from the evil one. It often arrives in the form of a cruel voice in our heads that tells us we will never measure up, that we are not good enough. We live in a country where career and productivity often lie at the core of identity. America is a capitalist country, and producing has intrinsic value. However, what kind of value do we place on our careers? What meaning have we assigned to our jobs? What is our response to job loss or financial loss? Depending on the value we place on our careers (i.e. being maximally “productive” rather than seeking meaning in good work) capitalism might be a product of this cruel voice.
When I meet new people, one of the most common icebreaker questions is: “What do you do for a living?” I respond, “I am a priest in the Episcopal church.” I won’t go into detail about the responses I have received, but they certainly run the gamut. I often wish to change my response to a somewhat less direct, but true statement: “I am an ambassador for Christ.” By describing my profession in this manner, it overtly communicates what is at the core of my heart and the forefront of my identity. It is not my career, finances, car, or clothing — it is Christ.
In this time of economic uncertainty and the millions of jobs lost, we will have to focus some of our attention on recovering from economic collapse and doing all in our power to regain what was lost. This pursuit will be necessary and (with God’s help, eventually) fruitful, but we must be prudent not to allow this restorative work to be tarnished by avarice and overzealous materialism. The inability to provide for one’s family is demoralizing, and I wish it upon no one. During this time, many will be facing desperate circumstances; regardless of the meaning, a person places on their work. But I also must raise a few important questions: how much meaning do you place on your career or title? If they have been lost, do you still have meaning in your life? Does your career define your identity?
When our earthly possessions have been taken away, how do we handle this anxiety? If one’s identity is rooted in their belongings or productivity, (also, if they don’t have their spiritual priorities straight) and those things are reduced, they may begin to feel hopeless. To be without “work” can mean that we are deprived of life — food, shelter, health care, the list goes on. But here in the ninth week of quarantine, we must remind ourselves that our faith is the bedrock upon which we must build our lives, and it is faith that will sustain us in the belief that in the end, good will triumph over evil, during this unprecedented episode. Moreover, before you had that job, Christ knew you. Before you were a senior accountant, a homeowner, a parent, God formed you — and your identity is in his image.
Do we truly believe that? Can we really believe in the promises of Christ amid this profound hardship? Can we believe in the promises of God if a loved one passes away from COVID-19? Can we believe in the promises of the living God when we cannot provide for our family?
Now, your identity in Christ may not provide physical food. Life may even get worse. I would be lying to you if I told you that if you “don’t complain and just have a little more faith,” things will turn around. Instead, the bedrock of our faith lies with the fact Jesus walks with you through the valley of the shadow of death. Our faith lies with the truth that Jesus will leave the 99 in order to find you when you call. An old hymn, called “In the garden” by Charles Austin Miles, sums this promise up nicely. The chorus goes, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other, has ever, known!”
You may recall that there was once a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Job had a great career, a loving family, and was financially stable. But as we know, Job faced many adversities in life: his livestock, servants, sons, and daughters were killed. His body was covered in sores, and his friends continued to claim that Job was at fault. Nevertheless, as things continued to get worse for Job, he kept his trust in the Lord.
Even after Job was downtrodden and left with almost nothing, he still said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
However, as Job’s suffering progressed, he began to lament. Job did not hesitate to express his anguish in the strongest terms. “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived’” (Job 3:3). “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). At first, Job trusted God implicitly and confidently professed his faith and steadfast love of the Lord. Then, as his circumstances changed, he lost sight of who he was and the promises of God.
I write to you not knowing your situation, not knowing the state of your well-being, but I write to you and tell you this: If calamity comes, may the Lord give you the grace to affirm your identity in Christ. For our God chooses you. Our God chose you to pour his love upon. In John, Jesus says, “you did not choose me, but I chose you.” In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were even born, I consecrated you.” God desires an intimate relationship with you. He calls you by name, saying, “I choose you to love, to redeem, to uplift, to set apart. I will never leave nor forsake you.”
And so, may we remember that our lives have always had meaning before any earthly things. May we remember to have hope in the living God. May we remember to have faith in the risen Lord. May we remember always to root ourselves in Christ and His plan for us — and that, no matter what happens, we are Christ’s own forever.
The Rev. Landon Moore is an associate priest at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Long Island.