COVID-19 is a difficult but masterful teacher. On March 29, my wife and I tested positive for the virus. When our doctors called us with our test results, we experienced a wide range of intense emotions: sadness, discouragement, and fear. As I brooded over my coronavirus experience, God taught several unexpected lessons.

It started when our middle son, Micah, came home sick. We didn’t really think anything of it, and assumed he had a bad cold or was battling allergies. But, several days after his arrival, my wife Tonia fell ill with what we thought was the flu—chills, high fever, body aches, and coughing—and we sat up and paid closer attention.

During this time, I was constantly checking myself for fever and for shortness of breath. No problems—37 degrees Celsius and still working out. It was all good. Then, four or five days after Tonia became sick and started to recover, I starting experiencing a low-grade fever (37.2 degrees Celsius), but no other symptoms—yet.

Shocking Results

Curious about whether we had the coronavirus, we decided to get tested on March 26. The test was no joke. I will spare you the details. Let me say, it was eight really, really uncomfortable seconds.

Three days later, the doctors called us with the disruptive news: “You’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Quarantine yourself for 14 days and if you begin to experience shortness of breath, go to the hospital immediately. Also, you will receive a call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the next day or so. In the meantime, stay hydrated and get rest.” No hand-holding. Just the facts.

Suddenly, there were waves of emotions:
Sadness
Discouragement
Fear
Guilt
Grief

. . . and a barrage of unanticipated questions:

When will we experience shortness of breath and have to be rushed to the hospital?
Am I going to die? Is somebody in my family going to die?
Will we die alone?
God, why me? Why am I suffering?
Why are the wicked prospering, but we’re sick?

You have to understand that all the reports we saw in the media were mostly negative. I figured someone or multiple people in our family were going to be part of the global map of infected people. I know that’s morbid and not super-spiritual, but it was our reality for this moment in time.

Our night ended with our children coming to our room and praying with and for us. We went to sleep, trying to rest in God’s sovereign plan for our lives.

COVID-19 disrupted our lives and forced us to invite God to begin a deep work in our inner being. When I pled with Him to do that, He taught me some unexpected lessons:

1. I Can Be Sad and Afraid

When the doctor called with the results for my COVID-19 test, I told myself that I couldn’t be sad or afraid. I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to always wear the armour of joy, encouragement, and courage. Never let them see you sweat, have all the answers, and be strong for everybody else, even if that’s not your reality. Image management. Us pastors are really good at this.

But I WAS afraid, discouraged, and sad. And I felt guilty for having those emotions. But I finally gave myself permission to be human. I didn’t have to manage an image. I could lament and introduce my fears to my Father.

2. I’m Not Special

COVID-19 is indiscriminate. It attacks the old, young, all ethnicities, and yes, pastors. Two of my fellow pastors have died due to the coronavirus. My heart breaks for their families and their congregations.

Now, I don’t know why I survived and my fellow pastors died. But I know that I’m not all that special. Yes, I know I am precious to my Heavenly Father. But I don’t have some special anointing or righteousness that allowed me and my family to survive. It is all God’s grace. I receive it with humility and gratitude.

3. I Can Only Control the Controllable

Following Jesus is about surrendering control of our lives to Him.

I could not control our family contracting COVID-19, but I could control my response to having the virus. I couldn’t control my symptoms—chills, fever, coughing, really bad diarrhoea, nightmares, foggy brain, and the loss of taste and smell—but I could control my rhythms to rest, stay hydrated, and follow the recommendations from healthcare workers and governmental officials. I couldn’t control the length of the government’s stay at home orders, but I could control my attitude and the use of my time while quarantined.

I surrendered my control to God. For I can only control the controllable.

4. God Speaks Through Orange Juice

During my skirmish with COVID-19, I lost my sense of taste and smell for six days. This was probably the most frightening and discouraging part about having the virus. I didn’t have an appetite, so I didn’t eat much.

But, around day 6 at three o’clock in the morning, God gave me a little gift. After not being able to taste and smell, I had a sudden craving for orange juice. This was weird because I had not craved anything for six days, and I don’t drink a lot of orange juice.

Later that morning, when I was feeling stronger, I went upstairs to the kitchen and had that cup of orange juice, and it never tasted so good. God gives gifts to His children, and His gifts don’t disappoint.

5. Needing Others Breaks Pride

I’m a pastor. I pray for people. I don’t need people to pray for me, right? How insidious pride is to our souls and odious to God!

So, when we were tested positive for COVID-19, I invited the body of Jesus to pray for us. But I felt guilty for doing so. As a pastor, I felt that I needed to give myself permission to feel vulnerable, and I needed to give myself permission to need others.

During this period, God began to expose and break down the pride that I didn’t know was there. I don’t have to be strong all the time. It’s all right and quite biblical to need others and let them carry your burdens. Followers of Jesus all over the world carried our load and we felt the effects of their prayers.

I have recovered well and I feel strong. I am grateful for the COVID-19 experience because God taught me some lessons about Him and myself that deepened my transformation. I simply would not have learned these lessons if it was not for that difficult and masterful teacher—COVID-19.

What unexpected lessons is God teaching you and your family during this season?

Marvin Williams writes for Our Daily Bread and he is the Lead Pastor at Trinity Church in Lansing, Michigan. He and his wife, Tonia, have three children. Check out his blog at marvinlwilliams.com.