Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Adding to the insecurities that most of us are feeling right now is the fact that many of us have come to discover that we are considered "non-essential." The things we do, the things we've invested our lives in, the passions that flow out of our hearts have been shut down because our communities simply don't need us to survive. 

That's a tough pill to swallow, especially when this is your thing. When this is the thing you've put all your hope into, all your dreams. When you've spent years building the life that you have, pursuing more and more and more, working deeper into your passion. When you have a deep love for what you do and you can't believe that you finally get to do it. For real. And when you believe that what you do truly makes life better for those you do it for. 

To be told that you're non-essential, that your community doesn't need you, that in a time of crisis you are best suited to sit on the couch at's hard. It hurts. It cuts like a knife deep through everything you thought you were. If you ever thought things felt a little fragile, now you know it for sure. 

But let me say this, and let me say it from the depths of my soul: you may be non-essential, but that doesn't mean you aren't vital

When we pare our society down to what is "essential," what we're really saying is that we're only interested right now in those things that keep us alive. Food, water, basic needs. The creature comforts we've come to accept as standards of living - electricity, gas, telecommunications, gasoline. These are the things that we need to keep our hearts beating, our muscles moving, our brains functioning, and our lives somewhat comfortable. 

But being alive is a far cry from actually living. And it is the things that we've deemed "non-essential" that are actually most essential for the kind of abundant life that Jesus promised. 

I'm not just talking about church, although the faith community is certainly part of it. (Interestingly, pastors are considered essential, but congregants/communities are not.) I'm talking about the artists among us, those who keep the world beautiful. The musicians, those who give us something to listen to besides the voices in our own heads. I'm talking about manufacturers who make the little luxuries that mark our spaces as our own, that give us the kind of life we want to live, not just can live. I'm talking about individuality and the choices we make every day. 

There's a county in my state that has shut off sections of its superstores, refusing to allow them to sell "non-essential" items during this time - things like board games, craft supplies, tools, furniture, bedding, clothing, electronics. You don't need these things, they say. And maybe we don't. But these are the things that turn a life into a living. These are the things that help us thrive when we breathe. No, maybe we don't need jigsaw puzzles and decks of cards and fuzzy new blankets, but these are the things life is made of. 

There's a reason that the news every night tries to end with a story that includes music or art or community; it's because these things, these things that we've deemed "non-essential" and cancelled en masse all over the world cannot actually be cancelled. They are the things that live in our hearts, even when you cut off our access to them, and they are vital to our being. Non-essential, but vital nonetheless. 

It reminds me of that scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy spends two weeks in solitary confinement after playing an opera record over the prison's loudspeaker. When he gets out, he tells his friends that he had the music to keep him company, and they ask whether the prison guards let him have the phonograph in the "hole." "I didn't need it," he tells them. Music stays in the soul. 

If you're non-essential right now, don't let that be a discouragement to you. Maybe you're not someone whose passion, whose heart, whose contribution to the world keeps us breathing. But that doesn't mean that you don't keep us living. That doesn't mean that we don't need you just as much as we need that other stuff. That doesn't mean that our souls are not right now aching for you, longing for the day when we are able to partake of your offering once more. Maybe you don't make our lives function, but you make them full. And we need you.

You may not be essential. But that doesn't mean you're not vital. 

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