I’m at home on a warm spring day. I’m sitting in a deck chair on my new fake turf. The paddling pool is set up and the BBQ coals are on. But I’m struggling to enjoy myself. I know I’m not alone in this, many of my friends are asking similar questions. How we can sit and relax at home when so many sad and terrible things are happening beyond my front door?
There are times of joy in our week. We recently hosted a Talent show for 30 families. Each child submitted a video of their talent. During the show I lost myself in the joy of what was happening. Laughing, dancing and chatting. I came off the call, happy and grateful for our community. We finished with a short disco for the kids, singing the words from Dance Monkey.
I said oh my g*d I see you walking by. Take my hands, my dear, and look me in my eyes. Just like a monkey I’ve been dancing my whole life. But you just beg to see me dance just one more time. Dance with me dance with me dance with me oh oh oh…
For a moment I was lost, like a good story, I was taken elsewhere. But like the other times I’ve sung this song in lockdown, as soon as the song finished a pang of guilt hit me. Nay how can you dance when others are working hard on the frontline? How can you enjoy your family when others have lost a family member? The moroseness hit again and I asked myself one more time can we enjoy ourselves in a pandemic? Can we dance and sing when others are just so sad?
As humans we need to sleep and relax, we need to dance and sing and read, for this is part of what make us human. And yet we feel guilty when we do these things. It seems to suggest to me that as humans we need to express our humanity, in order to be ok. But if thats true why do we feel so guilty enjoying ourselves during this time?
CS Lewis wrote a wonderful essay called Learning in War Time. He writes about the validity of study during war. Although we’re not in war, there are many parallels to life in a pandemic. His essay is so helpful and helps us answer this question whether its ok to enjoy ourselves and dance in a pandemic. Two of his points here seem particularly timely.
1. This isn’t new
“The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been on the edge of the precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself! We are mistaken when we compare war with normal life” Life has never been normal we’ve just forgotten how fragile we are.
2. War is never all about war, even for soldiers
Lewis goes on to say “before he went to the last war, he expected his life in the trenches would be in some mysterious sense, be all of war. In fact the nearer you got to the front line, the less everyone spoke and thought of the allied cause. War doesn’t obliterate the human life, soldiers are still men.” Lewis goes on to say “The war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object, and therefore intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of the human soul”. Lets remember what it is to be a human today, don’t let the pandemic oliterate the human life.
Later in his essay Lewis asks this very same question that we are asking “How can you be so frivolous and selfish to think of anything but the war”. Lets look again at the essay for some help he talks about three enemies to work, human life and flourishing in the midst of a war. They are excitement, frustration and fear.
Excitement – This is the tendency to think about war when we had intended to think about our work. This is even more possible today. Even before the pandemic many were struggling with an obsession with the news. Leading to an overwhelming, crushing sense. With constant access to news from across the world. Many are now advising that you limit how long you watch the news for. It is certainly easy to constantly watch tv and to become obsessed with the latest stats, curves and deaths. So lets not let excitement become an enemy to human flourishing.
Frustration – The feeling that we won’t have enough time to finish. I certainly feel that every day. Whether that’s work, cleaning the house or home schooling, the days really don’t have enough hours in anymore. Lewis sends another reality check here. He suggests that pretty soon for all of us will come a time when we start saying “no time for that” “too late now”. He suggests though that we commit our futures to God. Happy work is best done by the person who takes their long term plans lightly and works from moment to moment.
Fear – Lewis says “War threatens death and pain”, we certainly see that in this pandemic. He goes on to say “But there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that. What does war do to death? It doesn’t make it more frequent, but it may quicken when we die….The reason why cancer at 65 or Demensia at 70 don’t bother us is that we forget them”. We forget these awful things until a family member or friend has a diagnosis. Yet war makes death and suffering real to us. The pandemic has made death and suffering real to us. Whether it’s the pop up mortuary 3 miles from my home, the daily count in the news or the fact that death is trending on Google. The pandemic forces us to remember death and pain.
But the stats aren’t just out there. We may have experienced the death of a close friend or family member in lockdown. If not we’ll certainly know someone that has. If we had foolish hopes about human culture, about humanity’s ability to be God they are now shattered. COVID19 is bringing into focus a clarity on who we are and how fragile we are.
In this fragility and time of survival, can we really enjoy ourselves? Can we take time to dance and sing? If the answer is yes, then why do these simple things make me feel guilty? Lets go back to the question of guilt. For me this false guilt reveals that all too often I base who I am upon what I can do.
For me this false guilt reveals that all too often I base who I am upon what I can do.Tweet
If I was a frontline worker would I feel better about my existence right now? I’m doing what the government says. I’m staying at Home, I’m caring for my kids. But I don’t feel proud of my contribution to this pandemic if anything I just feel guilty.
At this point I hear God speak. I hear him say, I turned the guilt system on its head. Even if others play this game of making you feel guilty, even if you buy into it temporarily. I want to offer you something different.
There is an offer of a relationship free from guilt. One where the values and relationship are not dependant upon what you can do or who you can be, but the relationship is based on love. By taking up this offer of love as a basis for my life, there is no room for guilt or pride in who we are or what we do. The Apostle John says this in 1 John 3:20 ”If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”.
Its not about how we feel about ourselves or about what we do or don’t do in this pandemic, its about who God is and what he says.Tweet
If we understand God for who he really is, then we don’t need to feel guilt when we dance. Here are four reasons not to feel guilt. 1. The guilt system doesn’t work – “feeling guilty” does nothing for anyone. 2. There is one that has offered to remove genuine guilt from us forever. 3. Who we are is not dependant on what we do. 4. We were created to live not just survive.
So in our current existence, which can feel like every day is a Ground Hog day. Lets choose torecieve this offer of a guilt free life and truely live. What song will you sing today? What book will you pick up and enjoy?