As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to sweep the world, people are experiencing rapid changes in all spheres of their lives. Change is the common thread of my writing on this epidemic: changes people made to protect others, changes we are called to make to grow in wisdom, and changes we are called to make to our knowledge and skills in order to meet new economic challenges and serve our neighbors’ needs. Change in all of these dimensions of life is both challenging and necessary on its own terms, but change can also take an emotional and spiritual toll if we are not open to it.
Great change and the accompanying temptation to lose hope, to despair and complain, are nothing new. The Israelites, whom God brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2), were forged by God into a nation through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. During that time God provided for and watched over them, but the Israelites grumbled:
Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except this manna” (Numbers 11:4-6).
God had provided for Israel with manna from heaven (Ex. 16), but still the Israelites grumbled. This is because, as the economist Friedrich Hayek famously put it we “live as much in a world of expectation as in a world of ‘fact.” Our experience is conditioned by our memory. When reality fails to meet our expectations, as it often does in times of great change, we can be thrown dangerously off balance just when we need our bearings the most.
The yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar keenly observed that:
Mind and memory reinvoke past experiences of pain and pleasure and equate them to the present situation, however inappropriate. Whereas intelligence makes creative comparisons, mind makes destructive ones, destructive in the sense that they fix us in a rut, an imprisoning pattern.
In longing for the past and resenting the present, our mind and memory lead us back to the house of bondage.
It is not our experiences of the past or our expectations, however well intentioned, which are our destiny. God’s providence is our inheritance. It is for this reason that the Lord admonishes us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), which is God’s provision for us, and not the foods of our own cravings. Put your fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
(Photo credit: Andrew Imanaka. CC BY-ND 2.0.)