The coronavirus keeps my husband and me away from many things, but not from neighbors. Walk down the block on any given evening, and it seems our friends are just as eager as we are for fresh air and face time. They may be watering plants, walking dogs, or porch sitting, but with their chests angled toward the sidewalk, shoulders open to passersby.
One night Megan must have spotted us coming, because she appeared just as we were passing her house. She practically ran from her porch to greet us. We talked about the challenges of acclimating to a life at home and financial uncertainty—once hushed subjects that have become common grievances. We joked about how filthy our houses have gotten, as we know there won’t be any visitors.
In some ways, Megan was more prepared than many of us for isolation at home—she’d just wrapped up a year of treatment for a rare cancer, discovered when she and her husband were trying to have kids. In other ways, she was more disappointed—four weeks earlier she’d finally returned to the office, only to have her immunosuppression send her back home. It was one of those moments my body ached and yearned in the most helpless way for her hope and healing—if only my heart could have leapt out and encompassed hers! But the best thing I could do was listen and respond, grieve with her, and show compassion.
I’m so used to hearing stories of quick conversions and tactical, dramatic gestures of love and service that it can be hard to picture “witness” as anything else.
I’ve been thinking about Megan a lot, wondering if I should have done something more or better. It’s easy for me to have a conversation like that and see her as an opportunity. To put her name on a list with others who would benefit from knowing Jesus—to position all of our interactions as stepping-stones to the ultimate goal of her salvation. I’m so used to hearing stories of quick conversions and tactical, dramatic gestures of love and service that it can be hard to picture “witness” as anything else.
But along with our health, social plans, financial stability, and academics, believers’ usual avenues for loving others have been thrown out the window at the hand of this virus. In the past, I would have turned to my church, signed up to serve in one of its ministries, or volunteered with a local nonprofit, but isolation has changed all of that. How do we bring hope and love to the world without that structure?
I think I’m experiencing firsthand something Dr. Stanley taught once before: “We are called to take the unchanging message of the gospel to the people among whom we live. Now, you may not think of yourself as a missionary, but every believer has a role in accomplishing the Great Commission. Wherever you are, that’s where you are called to be a witness for Christ.” If that rings true, then these very conditions—virus-ridden as they may be—are broadening my understanding of the sharing the gospel.
For example, I now spend all 24 hours of most days with my husband. Though working in different rooms of the house, we’ve reached a level of consistent proximity that my parents, in their nearly 40-year marriage, never faced. This makes it harder to ignore underlying issues and easier to butt heads, but it also means forgiveness is always around the corner. On top of that, my husband has a front row seat to the working out of God’s grace in me, for better or for worse. Is that not the most powerful witness I have?
The gospel is not limited to our programs and ministries, strangers and the unsaved—His sustaining grace works right where we are.
After all, Jesus’ power in my life cannot be contained to a moment of salvation. Dr. Stanley teaches that there are two kinds of grace—saving grace leads us to accept Jesus’ sacrifice, and sustaining grace transforms us into the image of God’s Son. Sustaining grace is how God works in us daily, how we endure—it’s the God in us that our closest counterparts see. This is crucial to remember in a time when my church is closed and my social circles have been reduced to the handful of people I live with and near. It means the gospel is not limited to our programs and ministries, strangers and the unsaved—His sustaining grace works right where we are.
And where I am—and have been since the onset of this pandemic—is home. Making meals with my family, walking our street, and talking to neighbors on their porches. My style of witnessing in the past will always have a place in God’s kingdom, but right now I’m learning how to love and serve in other ways. And when I step back and reflect on God’s power, I know His grace can be made known in any situation—in my husband washing dishes or our friends’ sharing lawn equipment. And I also know that ultimately, God alone is the one who saves.
The more I remember this about Him, the less I worry about contriving tactics to reveal His goodness to Megan, or to any of our neighbors. Much of God’s saving work that we see in Scripture happened slowly over long periods of time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true today as we’re quarantined at home. That may mean it takes five years of nightly walks and neighborhood parties before Megan trusts me as a true friend, if she ever does. But in the end, I know I can trust God’s presence in our interactions—and the unfolding of His love just about anywhere.
Illustration by Adam Cruft