When You’re Feeling “Non-Essential”

When the tide turned a few weeks back and we started to see the rounds of cancellations beginning, our church, like many others, had to ask the hard questions: Should we cancel our in person worship service? How big a deal would that be? Could people manage without them?

Soon, we paused our in person gatherings. As hard as it was to admit, we were “non-essential.”

What about me? Did I need to “go” into work? I didn’t. My city didn’t “need” me to run my weekly Bible study, or visit people in hospital, or plan a big Easter celebration. The world could survive if I didn’t show up.

I was “non-essential.”

Soon, my kids didn’t need swimming lessons. We didn’t need to sit down in restaurants to eat. We didn’t need haircuts. We didn’t need to go to the dentist.

All of the above = “non-essential.”

It’s been weird, hasn’t it?

I get the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential,”and why it is important at this time. Our essential workers really need all of us that can to stay at home so that we can get through this time of crisis. I’m happy to do it and thankful that I can do it.

But there’s also that little niggling feeling that comes with that “non-essential” distinction, that little voice that says: “See? You’re not so important after all.”

After all, if we are non-essential, what does that say about us?

Does it mean that the things we do don’t matter?

Does it mean that we don’t actually make much of a difference?

Does it mean that it never really mattered in the first place?

These are hard questions and I think it makes sense that we might find ourselves wrestling with them at this time. In fact, I think that some of the anxiety and stress we are feeling may actually come down to one really big question: Does it matter that I am here?

I admit I have wrestled with this question in the last few weeks. It’s been interesting to process that pastors fall in the non-essential category, especially since there was a time that wouldn’t have been the case. There was a time pastors would have been deemed as critical to the cause as any frontline worker, but the world has changed. And that can give us some well-warranted pause.

But in those moments of pause I think there is something we all need to remember:

NONE of us is “non-essential.”

You never have been non-essential. You matter. You matter because you are you. You are more than your job. More than your hobbies. More than the things you do to fill your time. More than the titles you put on your profile pictures.

And while your job may fall in the non-essential category, your role at this time is not non-essential. Our skills may feel insignificant in light of the doctors saving lives, but we can do the things we can.

The Bible has an image of the church that says we are like a body. It says some of us are like hands. Others are the feet. Some are the eyes. It says “Don’t think that because you are not a certain body part that you are not important!” It points out that we each have a part to play. We can each use the gifts we have, even if there are seasons when they feel more non-essential than others.

For me, I can’t cure covid. I can’t work a respirator. I can’t even drive a semi-truck (of this, I am certain).

But I can write a blog that may encourage a few people who need a lift. I can phone someone and ask how they’re doing. I can lead a service online to help people in my church remember God is with them. These things may not be essential by many definitions, but they are how I am made and they are what I can give. So I will.

You can do things too. For some, it can be as simple as the gift you give to those on the frontlines by staying home. You’re not just “doing nothing.” You’re helping protect a whole lot of people.

You can call and reach out to people who need it. You can care for your family. You can check on people that others might forget.

You can do what you can.

Not being an essential worker doesn’t mean you’re not an essential person. (We only have to think of all the things we miss so deeply to realize that those restaurant workers and hairstylists may have been more important to our well being than we thought). There will be a time we are back to normal again and we will be so grateful to have ALL of our essentials back.

In the meantime, we all have a part to play. Let go of the comparison game and be your own essential self. That will be enough.

non-essential
Here I am doing my little essential things in my now-very-essential spare room.

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