Is anyone else all Zoomed out?
The internet meeting platform used to amaze me as I was able to connect with friends and colleagues across the country. It was a huge blessing to see folks “face-to-face” that I’d otherwise see only at yearly conferences. Being an introvert, Zoom meetings felt like the perfect balance between being with people and having some space.
And then the world ended.
In some ways, that’s obviously an exaggeration. We continue on. We adapt. Babies are still being born, milestones are still being celebrated, and even church is still being held—though remotely. Those of us with security in our jobs, homes, physical needs, and relationships may feel a little more grateful, a little less greedy.
Those of us who were already in difficult situations do the work of pressing on (or, when the church is not doing her job, falling further between the cracks). Other diseases still happen: people still battle against cancer and depression. Tragedies still happen: people of color still bear the weight disproportionately. The world continues to turn, even as it groans, waiting for Jesus.
And for many of us, meetings still happen. So many meetings.
Now, instead of feeling grateful for the technological marvel that is Zoom, I feel tired. Tired of staring at a screen where there once used to be in-person connection. Tired of getting up the gumption to put on “real clothes” when I haven’t left the house in days or even weeks.
A lot of us are feeling it—feeling the exhaustion of either too much connection, or not enough. Feeling the strain of our mental health being stretched to the brink, of our definitions of what connection means being forced into molds that feel broken. We wonder, where is God in all this?
Especially when we think about technology and connectedness, it can feel daunting to find a healthy balance. In this cultural moment of isolation and the internet, how can we pursue wise rhythms of unplugging from technology, time with the Lord, and self care? Hebrews 10:24-25 has long been a rallying cry for regular church attendance and being part of the body, not just an individualistic Christian: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In those early church days, meeting together had its own difficulties. Persecution made gatherings a risk. Paul chastises the Corinthian believers for their divisions, selfishness, and fulfilling the desires of the flesh—during the Lord’s Supper, no less (1 Cor 11:17-22). Folks were no doubt weary from difficult labor, often ill, and frightened. It would have been tempting to not gather, to shy away from the fellowship.
But, unlike many a majority culture church today, individualism was neither a cultural norm nor even really possible. There weren’t multiple copies of God’s Word laying around. Christians had to gather to have the epistles and Old Testament passages read to them. Believers had to be “of one heart and soul” and have “everything in common” to survive (Acts 4:32). The technology that allowed the church to have communion one with another may seem primitive to us today: ink and parchment, Roman roads and delivery systems. But, these advances were the backbone of early church communion.
Now we find ourselves—approximately 2,000 years later—sending emails, meeting in online spaces, and worshiping together-ish from our living rooms. Is the Day upon us? Will Jesus finally come, full of power and glory, to make things right? In a time of loneliness and fear, how on earth can we “stir up one another to love and good works” when we can’t even hug each other during (that awkward but now longed-for) greeting time?
The key to keeping our sanity and care for one another during this time comes (by way of pun) in choosing to do two seemingly contradictory things: “zooming in” and “zooming out.” We need to zoom in on finding what moments we can to pursue the Lord, to rest in him. We need to zoom out to see the bigger picture, to stay connected to Jesus’ body. We need both to be healthy.
If we are quarantined with others, zooming in can be especially hard. There are five of us in my house, and two of them are my children. My sweet, needy, volatile, currently “homeschooled” children. I’ve taken to hiding in the pantry to eat Girl Scout cookies and pray (when I remember). I gave my youngest daughter a copy of Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Coloring Our Gratitude (IVP 2017) for Christmas, which I sometimes swipe in the evenings once she’s in bed. It’s nice to doodle and pray and zone out a little.
Sometimes zooming out looks like letting our very legitimate cares and concerns go, when we can. Texting a friend or setting up an appointment with a pastor or counselor can give us perspective and a real lifeline in terms of our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
For those of us who are at home alone and/or are extroverts, it can feel like the entire world has shrunk to a single point and that so-called rest is the last thing we want to pursue. Zooming in is all we do, all day, every day. If we’re feeling strong enough, a book like An Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP, 2010) can ease us into a path of life-giving spiritual practices. Reading it with friends might be just what we—and they—need.
Which leads to zooming out—perhaps what would be helpful is taking a walk or doing a socially distanced friend date to watch the latest church service on phones “together.” Perhaps Zoom calls with loved ones are just what we need. Though even the most robust extroverts I know are currently worn out with Zoom work meetings, maybe sitting outside in the sun and talking with someone who understands will be more encouraging than draining.
For all of us, yelling at God is entirely permissible; the Psalmist did it often:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
Only when we acknowledge and reckon with the first four verses of Psalm 13 can we get to the last two in an authentic way:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
These moments with God will come in waves, in ebbs and flows. We may cry out one minute, and feel ourselves comforted by the Holy Spirit the next. We might rest well and then feel depressed all day. We may find ourselves encouraged once we’re able to get outside, but then weary upon returning home; we may be overwhelmed by the (perhaps) once-simple act of going grocery shopping, and relieved to crawl back inside a safe space.
But, the ultimate miracle of connection is that Jesus explicitly tells us “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt 18:20). God is neither petty nor limited by the Corona virus as we are. When we text a fellow believer, when we call our pastor, when we schedule a “responsible radius” group prayer with our church siblings, we are gathered, and Jesus is there. The context of Matthew 18 shows that the savior was talking about being in community with each other—caring for, evangelizing with, and forgiving one another. God is not limited in his community with his people.
Jesus himself—seated now at the right hand of the Father—is alive in his glorified body, one which, while yet bearing the scars of his crucifixion, is immune to any virus or harm. A body which can walk through walls to be with his disciples, who joyfully ate with his followers and now prepares a feast for us all.
If that weren’t enough, Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in and among us. Whether we are eating cookies during a quiet stolen moment, or waving at a friend who is six feet away, the Holy Spirit is with us. Whether we are desperate for human interaction because God made us for community, or we are hiding in a closet with a book, Jesus has breathed on us and told us to receive his spirit (John 20:22). He is always with us, even as he is bodily absent from us.
That’s something that neither life nor death, viruses nor financial woes, technology nor social distancing, can take away from us (Rom 8:38-39).