A three-year-old boy is hospitalized with COVID-19 in my town.
I learned about his situation from a pastor friend who sent out a prayer request for him.
I have a three-year-old girl.
Her mother and I do everything we can to protect her. We take precautions and wear masks. We quarantined when necessary and got vaccinated when available.
The hospitalized boy’s parents took these same steps.
One of the parent’s co-workers chose not to be vaccinated. It appears that the co-worker gave COVID-19 to the vaccinated parent who passed it to the unvaccinated child.
Until recently, I’ve not worried much about my children. They’re young and resilient, and I’ve heard few firsthand stories about kids their age seriously affected by COVID-19.
That’s changing fast.
ICU’s in Oklahoma are above 90% capacity and that includes the children’s hospital. Doctors in Oklahoma expect this surge to skyrocket after kids return to school, predicting that September will be one of the worst months of the coronavirus so far.
Last week, I made the painful decision to tell my unvaccinated family members that I’m not letting my kids be around anyone who isn’t vaccinated until this surge passes. It was not a pleasant conversation.
My wife gave birth to our little boy this summer. Much of my family hasn’t met him yet and protested fiercely when I explained the boundary.
One of them was planning to fly up in three-weeks time. Even if she signed up to get the vaccine immediately, which she didn’t agree to, she wouldn’t be fully vaccinated in time to make the trip.
It was unfair, she said, to pull this on her so quickly and without warning.
As kindly as I could, I explained about the little boy in the hospital who is the same age as my daughter. I explained about the surge in Oklahoma, and the ICU at the children’s hospital being near capacity.
She listened intently. I really thought I reached her before she replied, “Sometimes you just have to trust God, Jake. When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go, and nothing can stop it.”
I didn’t have anything to say. I mumbled something like, “Well, that might be so. Until then, this is just the way it is.” And then we hung up.
The worst part is that I am sure my family member is a true believer. She believes that her life is in God’s hands and that God will protect her from COVID-19. There’s no need to talk to her about free will, natural law and just plain old cause and effect, because her hyper-Calvinism is impenetrable.
Somewhat baffling is the fact that she didn’t learn it in church. Like many Christians in the U.S., she doesn’t even go to church.
I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself. I called her back the next day with a Bible story.
When Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days, the devil tempted him to throw himself off of the temple so that the angels would save him and everyone would see that God is mighty to save.
The devil tempted Jesus to do something reckless and unnecessary in order to rely on God saving him.
Jesus replied, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
I asked my family member how she could be certain that she too wasn’t succumbing to the temptation to do something reckless and unnecessary, and testing God.
Unsurprisingly, she was unmoved. No vaccine for her. She informed me that she would still come see my son in three weeks in order to meet him, but that would be it until this thing passed.
“I’m sorry, but you misunderstood me.” I replied. “This wasn’t a negotiation. You can’t come without being vaccinated.”
The predictable lashing out followed, before we ended the call on poor terms.
Three days later, my phone chimed with a text message. It was the picture of her vaccination card with the first dose stamped. No text. No words. Just the image.
I gave it some time before I responded, “Thank you.”
Another day passed before she replied simply, “I want to see those kids.”
Since then, almost all of my family members agreed to get vaccinated in order to meet my son.
I’ve reasoned with them since January without making any headway. I’ve written articles and preached sermons that yielded almost no fruit. I’ve argued at coffee shops and in the church hallway without ever making a convert.
I’m afraid that the only way people are going to change their minds about vaccination is when they begin to experience the consequences of their actions.
I’m lucky that not seeing my kids was consequence enough to catalyze change in my family, but I fear that it won’t be for many.
I hope I’m wrong, but I think the coronavirus is going to get worse again before it gets better.
Until now, the unvaccinated and anti-maskers were able to get by with it because the rest of us over-functioned for them. We shut down businesses, stopped dining out, wore masks, worshipped online and, above all else, we got vaccinated.
The Delta variant is a game changer, especially since Oklahoma state law prohibits another shut down and blocks local governments and school districts from issuing mask mandates.
There will be dire consequences. It may be too late to prevent them entirely, but it isn’t too late to set our own boundaries.
Apart from getting vaccinated if you aren’t already, here are five suggestions for surviving the next few months of the coronavirus.
1. Limit our children’s exposure. For me, that means letting my kids be around vaccinated adults and their children only. Not everyone will want to be as dogmatic as I am, but for me, this means church too. If my child’s Sunday school teacher isn’t vaccinated, then that’s a no go. Luckily, I know they are. I asked.
2. Wear a mask. I hate them more than I should. They make my beard itchy and unkempt, but it’s time to pull them back out and get used to wearing them in public and to church once again.
3. Create a pod with vaccinated families from your church or neighborhood. If there’s one lesson the pandemic taught me, it’s that community really is the Body of Christ on earth and essential to my family’s flourishing. The next few months may be really hard, so be intentional about carving out time to spend with safe families and friends.
4. Lower expectations. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, things may be about to get really hard again. This isn’t the time to start a home renovation project. It’s time to lower our expectations about productivity.
5. Pray. Pray that we will learn our lesson quickly and won’t be subject to undue suffering. Pray for the vulnerable who don’t have the same resources and options we have. Pray for our medical staff. Pray for our leaders.
Senior pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.