I was headed to the grocery store for ground beef just as fear over the coronavirus seemed to be peaking in South Carolina. I knew I would find some of the shelves bare, but what I didn’t expect to find was a lesson on empathy and compassion.

As I walked through the store, I saw no potatoes, no onions, no bread. Staring at the empty shelves, I began to think of things I may want to grab.

Flour. We opened our last bag this weekend. Find and grab flour!

We are a family of eight, so we can easily go through a bag of flour a week. When I got to the flour shelf, I found it empty. When I saw it, I thought, we are living in a time when someone made the decision to give up Super Mario so they could snag that last bag of flour. I wonder how many bags of flour Mario is worth.

As I made the eight-minute drive home, a sense of panic began to set in. It is a normal part of my life to buy a bag of flour every week. But life isn’t normal right now, and it may not be normal for a long time. Even when it gets back to normal, it’s going to be a new normal. As those thoughts set it, panic and anxiety came with it.

Because my kids are homeschooled, the social media posts I see about spring sports and proms being cancelled have had little effect on me. To be honest, I rolled my eyes at a few of them. Spring sports? Big deal. Prom? Big deal. There are bigger issues in life! Yet here I was, feeling a deep sense of sadness over not finding a $2.99 bag of flour.

We’re in the crisis of our age, impacting lives and jobs. In the grand scheme of things, missing sports and prom may be a big deal to some, while a shortage of flour can be for another. In that moment of my panic, that bag of flour was everything. It represented my fears, anxiety and uncertainty about the world right now.

That’s when God gave me a great lesson in empathy. It is not up to me to decide what is important, or an important “normal” in a person’s life. I don’t know what your bag of flour is. But we are all grieving something, no matter what it may be.

In Latin, ‘compati’ means “suffer with.” Compassion means someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Another’s suffering becomes your suffering. True compassion changes the way we live.

Jesus had compassion. If we, the followers of Christ, are to be like him, then we too, must have compassion on others now more than ever. Actually, for Christ followers, compassion is not a choice, but a command:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us all in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

So what does this mean in modern terms? It means stop rolling your eyes when someone gets upset over something with no meaning to you. We are all trying to figure out what life is going to look like. We are all trying to figure out if we will have jobs. When will non-essential businesses open again? Will the grocery store have food? Will that event I planned to attend this summer get canceled? When can we meet in church again?

So many unanswered questions.

But here’s what we do know. All viruses contain nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA (but not both), and a protein coat, which encases the nucleic acid. Some viruses also are enclosed by an envelope of fat and protein molecules. That being said, the one who made DNA, who made RNA, who made protein and nucleic acids, our Creator, who created us and knows science is not surprised by what is happening.

God hasn’t been knocked off the throne. He is still there, still in control and still Lord over all. Many businesses are closed. But God is still available and “open for business.” We, as his followers, still need to be in business too — that of extending love and compassion and serving those around us.

Rachael Collins attends United Wesleyan Church in Easley, South Carolina, and is currently pursuing her lay minister’s license.