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How is OMICRON Good For Us?

My heart sank last week when the news came out about the latest COVID variant, OMICRON.  All I could think was: Here we go again.  This past summer things were looking up.  It seemed like we were finally coming out of the pandemic.  Then we were hit with the DELTA variant.  As mask requirements were put back into effect, we all dreaded having to go through another winter of social distancing and lockdowns.  But over the last month or so, we’ve been getting a better handle on DELTA and things were starting to look up again.  Until the news about OMICRON.  How can we not feel anything but depressed and defeated?  How can there be any good in OMICRON?

“Learn to value the things that really matter.”

Until recently, I’ve never worked out in a gym.  I always had the luxury of working out at the firehouse, without so many people.  But, despite having to fight with the crowd for weights, I’ve found the gym to be very entertaining.  Last week, for example, I watched as two young men were spotting a friend doing bench presses.  Both “spotters” were intensely focused on their phones.  Even though they were standing in the right position, behind the bench, and even though they were looking in the right direction, in line with their friend doing his presses, they didn’t move as he fought with every last ounce of energy he had, twisting and torquing his body to get the bar back up on the rack.  As he fought for his life, struggling to keep the loaded bar from coming back down on him and crushing him, his friends played with their phones.    

When he finally got the bar safely back up into position and sat up, he had to shout at his friends to get their attention and let them know what just happened.  Although they were looking straight in his direction, they were completely oblivious!  That’s how self-absorbed they were.

Driving home last week, I saw a mother who was pushing her baby in a carriage so engrossed in her phone that, without any warning, she turned to cross a busy street--nowhere near the crosswalk--right in front of a large, oncoming SUV.  Thankfully, the driver was being extremely attentive and immediately made an emergency stop.  But she was so self-absorbed, she didn’t even notice that he nearly hit her and her baby.  Or the entusiastic gesture he gave her as she cluelessly made her way to the other side!

Being so self-absorbed can clearly be dangerous, to others and to ourselves.  But not just to our physical health and well-being.  As a culture, we have become increasingly isolated and self-absorbed.  No one goes to the movies anymore.  We all have home entertainment centers instead.  Most of our shopping is online now.  Amazon is putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business at an alarming rate.  Even the great meccas of American consumerism just a few short years ago, the Malls, are struggling to stay open.  More and more people are having their groceries delivered--no need to interact with people in a grocery store anymore.  And, as a result of COVID, more and more of us can work from home, limiting our professional interactions to Zoom calls from our living rooms.  In the name of comfort and convenience we have we have made the world revolve around us more and more and, in the process, have willingly isolated ourselves more and more.

But there’s a price to paid for all of this comfort and convenience.  For some time now, we’ve heard the abysmal mental health statistics resulting from our modern lifestyle.  Even prior to COVID, the rapidly increasing numbers of people who report feeling lonely, depressed, and even suicidal are staggering.  The increasing rates of addiction and overdose are even more staggering.  And even after COVID, even after all the pain we felt by having to be so isolated from others, there is no end in sight to the increasing self-absorption of our modern lifestyle.  Ironically, COVID seems to be accelerating this isolation by awakening us to new ways to use technology in the workplace and beyond. 

Especially as a result of COVID, we know how bad this isolating tendency is for us.  Yet we can’t help ourselves.  We know better, but we can’t seem to pull ourselves away from all this comfort and convenience and self-absorption that is, literally, destroying our mental health.

“I pray that you may learn to value the things that really matter, up to the very day of Christ.”

When Paul writes this in his letter to the Philippians (1:10), he is in prison.  Life for Paul was hard.  He experienced multiple imprisonments, beatings, and persecutions.  He must have often felt that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach of “here we go again”.  He must have been tempted over and over again to feel defeated and depressed by all he had to endure. 

But if you read through his letter to the Philippians you will find his tone striking.  It’s one of joy.  Throughout the letter, Paul’s constant refrain is joy, a joy he has found even in the midst of all the adversity he faces.  In fact, he sees these hardships as special opportunities of grace, opportunities to enjoy a deeper union with Christ.  That’s why he can say that for him, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.  He is so filled with gratitude and joy that you can’t read this letter without thinking that here is a man who seems to have found the secret of life, the key to true happiness, what really matters.     

And yet, his circumstances are no better than ours.  Actually, they’re far worse, far more dire.  But he has chosen to respond to them by focusing on what really matters, which, above all, is a closer union with Christ.

“Learn to value the things that really matter.”

In a nutshell, the Christian message is that we can’t help ourselves.  By nature, we are inclined to be self-consumed, and, in all kinds of ways, this has put us on a course for disaster.  The Gospel says that, even though we know better, we can’t help ourselves.  But it also says that we don’t have to.  That’s what grace is all about.  Jesus has done it all.  When we trust our lives to Him, to what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection, He saves us from ourselves and liberates us from all the grave a nasty consequences of our addiction to self. 

“Learn to value the things that really matter.”

COVID is the gift that keeps on giving!  But as depressing as this latest OMICRON variant is--and there are probably going to be more--we, like Paul, can respond to it in a way that results in a great good for us, indeed, the greatest good.

In some ways, for some people, COVID has been a wake-up call, focusing them on what really matters.  But by and large, this lesson seems to have been lost.  This latest variant is giving us another chance.  It’s forcing us to reconsider our response and our lifestyle.  

The choice is ours.  We can let this latest news depress and defeat us.  We can go merrily along in our modern, self-absorbed lifestyle.  Or we can let it to remind us to focus on what really matters, above all, a closer union with Christ.  We can let it to remind us of our need for God’s grace.  We can let it remind us to turn to Christ and the experience the transformative joy that comes from being liberated from all this self-absorption.

What will you choose?

How are you feeling about this latest news regarding the OMICRON variant?  I’d love to hear any thoughts, questions, or feedback you have.  Go to the “Contact E. J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and share your comments.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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