Kehrberg: Giving up my essentials

Apr 20, 2020 by

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People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.
— Dorothea, Middlemarch

In response to COVID-19, our county issued a “stay home, stay safe” order. We are supposed to stay home unless we need to do something essential.

Sarah Kehrberg


This is not an easy one to interpret. People need exercise, to make a living, to get their hair dyed before their roots grow back in. Children need to be fed, entertained, educated. Old people need to protect their health, but they get really bored shut up inside.

Except for groceries and medicine, there isn’t consensus of what justifies a voyage beyond one’s front door. We all have different definitions of essential. Amid the sudden and traumatic changes caused by COVID-19, our priorities are being aired out in a very public way.

Many people find themselves with way more hardship than I do right now, so I doubly regret to admit I haven’t responded graciously to life­style restrictions mandated as a result of the coronavirus.

It isn’t that I don’t care about people getting sick and dying. And I’m actually a pretty conscientious rule follower.

But I strongly resist being assigned my essentials and then being judged if I don’t agree.

In this way, a blessing of living in the time of COVID-19 is a new empathy for my children and their frustrations about having no control of their lives.

Over the years my children have expressed some iteration of “Why do you get to tell me what to do?” More recently, in the midst of a thoughtful and amiable discussion, my daughter told me, “Parents control everything. You get to do whatever you want.”

I was speechless. I get to do whatever I want? In my reality, my children and their needs completely dictate my life. My sense of individual agency is so wrapped around their three beating hearts that I struggle to know where they end and I begin. Surely, she knew deep down that my decisions were in service to the greater family good.

I feel this same sense of subjugation in this time of forced quarantine. The medical experts, government, even neighbors and friends get to decide what is best for me. They do this not knowing I require a daily walk in the woods with my dog. Or that my son has no interest in school if it doesn’t involve friends. They clearly don’t realize how badly I need church.

Jesus also issues lifestyle mandates I would rather not consider essential. Forgiving the same person over and over. Giving my well-deserved dollars to others I don’t consider deserving.

Jesus takes away my right to judge others and preen a self-righteous attitude built on good works. He rejects a worldview that celebrates physical power, money and public praise (all of which I enjoy on some levels). Sometimes it seems that much of Jesus’ good news means a loss to me personally.

Oh, but he also gives. Nothing more poignant than the example of his death and resurrection — life out of death, beauty from the grotesque, wholeness from the broken.

This global tragedy is asking me to give up my individual essentials, as petty as they are, for the good of others — in other words, sacrifice. Therein lies the good news of Jesus: sacrificial love is the only real love. It is the only way to fully live.

You know what they say. “We’re all in this together.”

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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