During a pandemic, when the once-full calendar is wiped clean, we get a chance to evaluate the days, the minutes, the plans we once held so dear. If I’m honest, there were several items on the calendar I was not sad to see go, nor have I wished them back. But there are a few things I learned during the pandemic that I hope I will cling to as tightly as my hand sanitizer.
For one thing, as valuable as the gift of presence became to me during the time of separation, I also learned that in building relationships, it is often the gift of persistent pursuit that trumps the power of presence. Our small group from church has been together for three years. We love and care for each other deeply, but with millions of children between us and busy adult lives (pre-pandemic), it often felt like that small group date on the calendar was more burden than blessing. We never regretted the time spent together, but, admittedly, it was often a bit of a relief when one or two families went out of town at the same time and we had to cancel.
In fact, it was often easier to cancel than to fight for togetherness. And yet we all wanted to build the relationships and to fight for our unity, so we tried to keep the activities on the calendar and we tried for presence.
And then … pandemic.
Certainly, “Zoom fatigue” was real. But we decided to keep our weekly meeting via screens for the sake of seeking togetherness. It was often the only adult faces my husband and I saw (besides each other’s) during the week. We didn’t try and study a book of the Bible or do anything extra holy; we just checked in, told stories about the ridiculous of pandemic, and prayed for one another.
To our surprise, it was when we let go of trying so hard, trying to meet in person, that we found the true joy of relationship. We began to simply delight in the regularity of company. We learned that it didn’t matter where we were: if we sought each other out, then the relationship grew stronger. Once travel opened up and some of us began moving around more freely, we realized we didn’t have to cancel small group as much as we thought. We could catch up via the internet and still come away refreshed and encouraged, even delighted by one another.
We obviously prefer to meet in person, and this is especially crucial for the church’s weekly corporate gathering. Yet, when it comes to our small groups, I think we too often wait for the perfect moment when relationships will magically click. But strong relationships are usually fused through either intense shared experience or a long period of time together. And isn’t that just a picture of how God asks us to relate to him? He finds us in our mess and he isn’t bothered by physical distance. It’s when we pursue him every day in his Word that the gift of his Spirit fills us with deeper intimacy and knowledge of him.
Surprisingly, the pandemic has forced us to give up the pursuit of the “perfect small group moment” and instead reminded us to keep giving one another our attention. It was the way we were supposed to relate to one another all along.
It isn’t simply presence that matters. It’s also pursuit. It’s consistent conversation. Whether we are locked in our homes, waiting in an airport, or staring down another school year with questions and fears, we are now more certain of the need to keep talking, more certain of that Sunday evening time slot, and more certain that we know each other well.
Pandemic changed everything. But it didn’t change our need for people. It just changed how we go about connecting with them. And I’m so glad it did.