What does discipleship look like in this season of Corona-tide?
A terrific question. The past several months have been challenging as the uncertainty and strain have created the “under stress, we regress” scenario. There is a significantly greater level of intentionality needed to maintain positive spiritual practices. Some days, I have that energy. Some days, I don’t.
Taking care of myself
This is a HARD season, and I believe discipleship right now involves recognizing that. Do the best each particular day can bear. Avoid the “shoulds” and the shame that comes from them. Continue to practice loving yourself as Jesus does, with the same gentleness, compassion, and grace.
The more I learn to love myself this way, the better I am able to love others, even in these stressful and difficult days. (The opposite is also true: I can tell when I need some extra TLC based on the thoughts that run through my head about “this conversation” or “that encounter” or the person in line in front of me at the grocery store.)
Taking care of my own
As the pandemic began to overtake the United States, one of the key questions I needed to answer for myself was “who is my neighbor?” I saw this looming crisis with so very many needs, both short-term and long-term. At first, I was attempting to strategize how to care for a very big swath of folks, which was completely overwhelming and, in reality, unreasonable. My heart was that big, but my personal and financial resources were not. A wise woman coached me, “If we each take care of our own, plus a few more, everyone will have what they need.” That then became my prayer.
Following Christ in love and obedience, I asked, to whom specifically was God asking me to extend care?
The first was obvious. A dear friend from our seminary days was moving back into the area. It was mid-pandemic, and she needed to re-establish housing and income that could support rent, insurance, car payment, and more. This is a difficult challenge in our area during “regular times,” let alone in the midst of Corona-tide. We offered her our guest room as a safe haven until things come together for her.
It has now been a few months, and we expect it will be a few more. We are each thankful for the blessings of this time together, even while so much of the world is riled up. I’m also thankful for a large parsonage that allows us to extend this kind of hospitality, as many people are unable or unwilling to share spare rooms due to health concerns.
Taking care of a few more
My “few more” would also grow to encompass a homeless couple in their early 30’s. They were referred to me by a homeless man I met in August 2019, a man who has taught me a great deal of truth about the hidden homelessness and poverty right here in the beautiful suburbs of Philadelphia. Over the past four months, I have walked alongside David and Anna,* encouraging, mentoring, supporting, coaching, and praying as they make their way back to work and affordable housing, which, again, is so very difficult here.
This isn’t a story of how these very personal encounters launched a huge program or solved homelessness or hunger. It is, however, the story of how powerful God’s love is when you show up bearing it over and over. In particular, that love is so powerful for folks who feel like there is no one left to rely on and no one to call for $20.
This is a story born of addiction recovery, domestic violence, addiction relapse, children in foster care, addiction recovery, and homelessness. I came into the story at the “homelessness” part. Our journey has included accessing medical care, providing a co-pay and a working cell phone for psychiatrist appointments, transporting David and Anna, and ensuring safe, steady housing (all in a pandemic). Underneath all of this is prioritizing mental health and sobriety as the foundation upon which the rest of life can be built.
This is a story of the power of bearing witness to someone else’s pain, frustration, and struggle. I am a mother who adopted another mother’s children from foster care. One recent fall day, I found myself sitting at the table with Anna, also a mother, along with her case worker and adoption worker. Anna tearfully signed three sets of paperwork, one for each son, listing her address as “homeless.” Her parental rights—but not her mother’s love—would be terminated in 30 days.
I didn’t have an official role at that table, except to bear witness to her pain and her love and to validate both. To share with her things the social workers couldn’t. To listen to all the emotions of these moments, before and after they took place. To pray with her and for her boys. She wanted her own mom or dad to stand with her, and for her and her children. That’s just not possible right now. But I believe in my heart of hearts that God sent me to represent him and his love in the turmoil and messiness of life.
This is also the story of a bi-racial couple. I’m listening to and learning from David what it is like to be a Black man in our suburban towns. The assumptions made about him. The prejudice and outright racism he encounters. The thoughts and fears that go through his mind. The changes in response and attitude when this little white lady is there to advocate for him or back up his story. It infuriates me that this is his (and our!) reality, but there we are standing together as brother and sister in Christ. David was raised Baptist and senses the calling on his life to share God’s Word and his own personal story. I can’t wait to discover just how God unfolds that.
Taking care to show Christ’s love
This is a story that is far from over. The trial resulting from Anna’s traumatic domestic assault is around the corner, and she is preparing to testify against her soon-to-be ex-husband. I’ll be there, dressed in love. There is also the matter of the recent car accident with police involvement. I’ll be there, dressed in love. There’s also the court date and Anna’s “mother’s statement” as her boys move toward adoption. I’ll be there, dressed in love.
So, what does discipleship look like? Courage. Curiosity. A willingness to get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life, even if that means stepping beyond my comfort zone. Embodying a stubborn, relentless love that comes from God and just keeps showing up.
I cannot save David and Anna from their circumstances or their choices. I can, however, tend to my own spiritual TLC, which is particularly necessary in this season of Corona-tide. Then I have the best “me” God created me to be and can offer myself to others—my own plus a few more—in partnership and in Christ’s love.
*Names changed for privacy reasons.
A word from Jeff Allen,
lead coordinator for discipleship in the Reformed Church in America
Bethany shares a real-time perspective of what practical discipleship looks and feels like in this particular season. Her encouragement to practice gentleness, compassion, and grace while avoiding “shoulds” and shame are powerful and pruning words for providing abundant fruit in any season.