For us cross-cultural workers, so far away from our mothers, we tend to mother ourselves — to hack and schedule and self-care our way into health and flourishing. And we can get pretty good at it. We are creative, resilient people, and we couldn’t keep going if we didn’t have some measure of endurance and spirit.
We’ve learned to live without our mothers, and many of us are perhaps living without mother-figures, as well. We feel the weight of cross-cultural life and ministry, without anyone to make us a cup of soup on a sick day or pop over to read to the kids so we can have some breathing room. Learning to do without, we can feel strong and capable — even as we long for things to be different, to have the both the gifts of living overseas and the gifts of being physically near to our loved ones. To have someone take care of us, for a change.
And yet our capabilities can also be our Achilles’ heel — it can be what makes it most difficult to cultivate a life of daily, vital dependence on our Savior. Of course, the reality is that we are dependent on him with each breath, but sin has a way of obscuring reality so that it feels like we are the ones who are holding things together and making things happen.
In this Coronatide, the number of hacks and tips and tricks have multiplied. All of us — expats or natives — sense a deep need for help. We cannot do this alone, with our usual resources. This moment is unique, in our lifetime at least, and we are grasping for any sense of confidence in advice-giving and instruction for how to best live in this time.
But what I am finding is that no matter how many people tell me they have the perfect advice, the perfect work-from-home, school-at-home, isolation-survival guide, this season of quarantine has hit me like a ton of bricks.
My emotions and my thoughts ride a roller coaster each day, as I struggle through my distance teaching and try to think of ways to continue ministry (and then find the energy to act) and handle my kids’ own emotions and disappointments and bickering, and just want to get out of the house for a good long time.
I’ll be the first one to say that a good routine and a good schedule can help immensely. But I also know that the hacks and advice of a productivity culture fall short of curing my cabin fever. This isn’t because they aren’t any good — our well-being depends on many of them, such as daily exercise and establishing good habits. But those kinds of self-care and common sense strategies don’t fix everything, because the situation we’re in isn’t that of a machine that has broken down. We don’t need to figure out which bolt or spring to replace in order to get things running smoothly again.
The root problem is, simply put, our world is under the curse. We live in a world that succumbs to illness and disease. We live in a world where we get tired and run-down. We live in a world where the poor fall through the cracks, where people’s physical needs are taken care of based on their position in society. We live in a world where our homes are not always the safe places of peace and comfort that they ought to be. We live in a world where the Evil One has been defeated but not yet banished, and so we feel the effects of his attacks on our hearts and minds.
Friends, no tip or trick will allow us to overcome and fight our way into health and flourishing. We may succeed in producing a veneer of health, but to truly bring health deep down, to ourselves and to the world around us, we need the Great Physician.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). Only Jesus can attack the problem at its root, by defeating sin and death and the Evil One. Only Jesus can make the world whole, to restore it to a place of health and safety and flourishing for all people.
And yet, Jesus does not promise to protect us from illness or suffering here and now. We are promised a future without sorrow or pain (Rev. 21:4), but “in this world [we] will have trouble” (John 16:33). So we are right to expect difficulty. We understand that our bodies will succumb to illness and death. We understand that our hearts will be a battleground against doubt, despair, complacency and indifference. But we also understand that right now, God has promised his very presence. He promised food and drink that will satisfy us, in Jesus. And if through our present quarantine we realize that despite past assumptions of competence and strength, all along we have been dependent on Him, that is a very good thing indeed.
So try out that new tip. Rework your schedule to give yourself more realistic expectations, and more time to take care of your body, spirit, and mind. But remember that the success of any of it is the good gift of our loving Savior, God with us, who takes us under his wings as a protective mother (Psalm 17:8). He’s the one we turn to each day, asking for our daily bread — strength and sustenance to meet the day.
Have you tried anything that’s been particularly helpful in quarantine? How have you experienced God’s motherly care for you in this time?