Everyday Christian: The problem with living in a bubble

As I write, notifications flood my phone. The news that Sydneysiders have been waiting for has just arrived.

After 12 weeks in lockdown, our kids can finally visit a friend’s house. The NSW government announcement is a salve to weary parents already despairing about how to fill the long hours of the next two weeks of school holidays.

A rush of text messages ensues, as parents try to shore up playdates.

Under this new freedom, three friends under the age of 18 can visit each others’ homes if they are within the 5km or local government area radius (so long as all their parents are fully vaccinated).

My initial reaction is to join in the Hallelujah Chorus with parents across the state. But reading on, the gleam on this welcome news begins to fade. “These two friends must always be the same, creating a three-person ‘friends bubble’.”

It’s like the dreaded schoolyard pick … No one wants their kid to be left off the team.

Within minutes of the announcement, one of my daughters thunders up the stairs to my home office. She passionately outlines the bubble problem: “I’ve got four close friends, so who do I choose? One of us is going to be left out.”

The exact same issue also plagues my other two daughters – each has a group of four friends.

A notification pops up from a work colleague. She’s just arrived at the same realisation: “I’m worried that some kids will get left out. What if their best buds choose friends that are not them? What happens to rejected kids?”

It’s like the dreaded schoolyard pick all over again. No one wants their kid to be left off the team.

And suddenly, the next few days of my life will require negotiations more skilful than a UN diplomat!

Christians are among the most susceptible to ‘bubbleitis’.

While the three-friend bubble issue is far from solved for my daughters, it has reminded me about the problems with ‘bubbles’ in general.

Christians are among the most susceptible to ‘bubbleitis’. When we are physically at church, we can guard against this to a small extent by inviting people along to church, welcoming in newcomers and talking to those we’ve never met before at morning tea instead of the church ‘in-crowd’.

For those of us in extended COVID lockdown, it’s perhaps easier to give in to our insular tendencies. When our contact circle closes in to just our immediate family and a few friends, perhaps our compassion and understanding towards those beyond this circle also shrink.

If social media interactions are anything to go by, this certainly appears to be the case – not just for those in lockdown, but for Christians more broadly. It’s becoming too common to see Christians pitted against each other (let alone against those who don’t share our faith) over issues of vaccination, political leanings and denominations.

I recently came across a great example of breaking out of ‘bubbleitis’.

As head of Gospel Coalition Australia Akos Balogh put it his recent article for Eternity: “In today’s culture, churches and Christians face a real and present threat to Christian unity when it comes to politics. As our society becomes ever more polarised – dismissing, nay, hating those who hold opposing views – this attitude can seep into our churches, with devastating effects on our fellowship, and our witness to the wider world.”

I recently came across a great example of breaking out of ‘bubbleitis’. A friend was sharing how her Bible study was working together to accommodate a member who has chosen not to be vaccinated. It’s only a small group of five people, which means under current COVID rules for Sydney, the rest of the group could begin meeting for an outdoor catch-up if they excluded the member who wasn’t vaccinated. However, instead, they decided to continue meeting on Zoom indefinitely in order to be inclusive and loving towards the unvaccinated member. This might sound like a small concession to make, but for Zoom-fatigued people in long-term lockdown, it’s a significant act of love.

Of course, there are many other examples of bubble-breaking that have punctuated the pandemic over the last two years – neighbours demonstrating loving acts towards others in their community being among the most publicised.

As I look towards the coming weeks in lockdown and, God-willing, the increasing freedoms that lie beyond, I want to commit time to think and pray about the ways that I can step out of my own little bubble in order to embrace the radical inclusiveness modelled by Jesus.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)