Almost two years ago I got one of those blindsiding, out-of-the-blue phone calls. It was Thursday morning, a few hours before I was heading to church to attend the funeral of an older man in our congregation. I checked my phone to find a stream of missed calls from a friend—but when I called her back, her father answered. Natasha had died suddenly that morning. We were both twenty-four.
I was thinking about Natasha yesterday, as I often do, but it wasn’t only the pain of her loss that brought me to tears. I remembered the comfort I felt on that awful day. I’d tried to distract myself by helping set up for the funeral service. But I couldn’t keep it together for long. I stood in the kitchen and told a woman there what had happened. I can vividly remember how it felt to have her hug me while I cried for a long time.
Memories like that made me realise how this pandemic has robbed us. I miss walking into my familiar church building and hugging friends, or even just greeting them with a shoulder squeeze as I pass by to avoid interrupting their conversations. I didn’t know how much I needed those little moments of physical touch until they were gone. That’s what brought me to tears.
I’m grateful that the pandemic isn’t so bad here to keep us from seeing friends at all. But we still have to maintain our distance, and there’s something missing. Some friends from church came over last night to play socially-distanced D&D with my brother-in-law. I sat with them and read a book, comforted just by their presence.
Nothing can fully replace the joy and comfort of physical touch, and it’s right to mourn until we can meet again like we used to. God has wired us to need this kind of intimacy. But this season of grief is also an opportunity for me to draw near the Lord. Today I went for a walk and listened to Psalm 23 on repeat until the truth sunk into my heart:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (v. 4)
Even though I can’t see or hear him, God is with me always. No pandemic, no distance, no government regulations can keep him from my side. When I look at what it cost for Jesus to bring me communion with his Father, I know he will not let me go. Jesus was abandoned by his friends, mocked and tortured, and killed on a cross. He allowed his heart and his body to be broken so that I would never be alone again. If he did that for me, surely he will keep all his promises.
Paul was certain of this too: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
Human relationships have their limits but God’s love will never fail. And until I can enjoy the comforting embrace of a friend, I will keep praying for God to draw me closer to him:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.