Over the course of these last several months, I have noticed a particular phrase used frequently in the media. It goes like this: “COVID has laid bare…” and then what usually comes next are words like healthcare inequality, socioeconomic divides, food insecurity, or the inaccessibility of technology. I find this phrase quite accurate in describing what the pandemic has done both broadly in society and personally in my own life. With so many children doing remote learning suddenly, we have to face the fact that people living in poverty may struggle to access, use, or understand technological devices. And even when they do have a device, they may lack internet access—laying bare what is sometimes called the digital divide. When the president gets COVID and can receive treatments unavailable to most people, that is healthcare inequality. When school breakfasts and lunches have to be picked up by parents who don’t have a car and don’t have time during their workday to take the bus to pick up meals for their children, that highlights both socioeconomic divides and food insecurity. The pandemic has laid bare these problems, throwing into relief the jagged edges of society’s cracks and inequalities.
In my own life, COVID means that I am home all the time with my five children, which for many years was the exact thing I avoided at all costs. What I have seen laid bare is my reliance on screens and online shopping as ways to zone out when I don’t have enough alone time. Additionally, my enduring wish that Mary Poppins would show up so I wouldn’t have to cook or clean has become a persistent ache; when she doesn’t appear, the depth of the mess and haphazard nature of my food preparation are laid bare.
While I’ve listed mainly negative realities that have come to light because of the pandemic, I’ve also noticed many wonderful things that have been laid bare: a generosity of spirit I see in my neighbors as they post things to give away on our local “Buy Nothing” Facebook page, as well as the hope and determination of citizens of all political stripes who came out in record numbers to vote earlier this month, despite the obstacles of the pandemic. In my own home each day, the creativity of my children shines in a way that was hard to see when our schedule was full of activities for them. And my husband’s servant heart is particularly obvious right now when he comes home from work and turns into a willing cook and cleaner—exactly what I need when I am low on energy and Mary Poppins hasn’t made the longed-for appearance.
While no one would wish for a terrible pandemic like the one we’re in, sometimes the institutions of a society or the inner workings of a person need to be laid bare in order for necessary change to happen.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5, ESV)
In this passage, the prophet Isaiah writes about how Jesus’ entrance into the world is not comfortable or convenient—both his coming as a human in history and his arrival in our own lives today. When we prepare the way for the Lord, our lives and our hearts are laid bare—the rough, difficult places become clear and open like a plain, the mountains and hills drop so nothing blocks our view of reality, the valleys rise up and we acknowledge those depths and difficulties as well.
Many of us have so many comforts and conveniences that we rarely experience the struggle, pain, and change that being laid bare can bring to our lives and world. I want to challenge you during Advent 2020 to reflect on the places in your life that these last nine months have exposed—both the positive and negative realities that you can no longer ignore with busy-ness and travel and rushing to the next get-together or party or playdate. What has the pandemic left you alone with that you need to recognize and act on? What better time than Advent, when we anticipate the coming of the Christ child, to stop ignoring what needs to be addressed in our lives? Could God use this challenging time to change us personally and help us heal and transform the broken places in the world? So much feels difficult and overwhelming at this moment in time. May we not become so consumed with coping that we can’t see the beauty and growth that God is still accomplishing in the wearying wilderness that is life right now.