After you get that long-awaited vaccination shot (or two) in the arm, there will come a point when you will exhale, marveling at what we all just lived through and how we were forced to live through it.
And while getting a shot in your arm doesn’t automatically end the pandemic, it surely brings a much-needed sense of relief and marks a hopeful turning point as the world tries desperately to turn the page on this tragic chapter of modern history.
As your arm grows sore over the next couple days, you will feel a sense of gratitude for your health and the health of your family and friends who made it to this point along with you.
You may feel a renewed sense of grief over the millions of lives that were lost to this plague and for the millions more still living who will never be the same after this experience.
You will no doubt experience a sense of personal freedom that has been so long deprived that it won’t even feel like meeting a long-lost friend. It will be more akin to welcoming a stranger. With antibodies rushing through your system, there will be a temptation to quickly burn off all the energy that a year-and-a-half in your house has pent up in you.
Your thoughts, speech and actions will be guided by phrases like “after the year we just had…” and “I deserve this” and “we earned this.”
But I’m trying hard to resist these urges — and I hope you do, too.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate the fact that we are no longer forced to stay in our homes and avoid human contact. Of course we should be happy! By all means, continue to follow whatever protocols are still in place and enjoy your life to the fullest again. Go out to restaurants. Have friends over for a game night. Take a vacation. Return to work at your office. (Well, maybe not five days a week anymore…)
But let’s not use our survival of the pandemic as an excuse for overindulgence, gluttony, and entitlement.
Remember that we are mostly not personally responsible for having made it out alive. Sure, you made the decision to wear a mask or wipe down your groceries when we were told that’s what we should do to protect ourselves and each other. But the enduring lesson of the pandemic should be one that most of us seem to forget while living in the fast lane of an all-consuming culture and a self-centered society: We are not in control of our lives.
For most of us, the fact that we didn’t succumb to the virus when so many other people did involves more than merely social distancing and luck. In health matters especially, we are all one abnormal cell growth away from chemotherapy and one well-placed droplet in the air away from dying on a ventilator. And for the most part, we can’t control those things.
God has given us the gift of life and He alone knows the plan for our lives. We have free will and make choices at every moment, but the outcomes of those choices are not really ours to decide. Every good thing that comes our way is a blessing that has been bestowed, even when it feels like something we earned on our own.
Reading the horrible headlines of 2020 was a master class in “God’s ways are not our ways.” Why would He let so many people suffer? Why would He allow a pandemic to sweep the globe? Why did some at-risk people prevail against the virus with minimal complications, while other healthier people inexplicably died?
We don’t know the correct responses to these questions, but we do know the appropriate responses to our continued presence on this Earth: gratitude and love.
We don’t deserve anything that we have been given. God loves us so much that He has gifted us each day as an opportunity to reflect that love toward one another and back at Him.
This love is hopefully what we will find we have been missing most through the dark days of stay-at-home orders and canceled birthday parties. This love is what we need to double down on as we return to some semblance of normal.
This love is the only vaccination against the virus of human nature — an outbreak of selfishness, hatred, and greed that has spread further than COVID-19 ever could and has side effects that are far more insidious and deadly.
I pray that we will use our returning freedoms to help free one another from the lie that we are walking through life alone — six feet apart and masked, looking out only for our own well-being and seeking our own selfish interests.
The human family is coming back together, and this might be just the shot in the arm we all need to wake up to the ways we can better love those in our midst.