Life during this pandemic has changed the world as we know it rapidly. The other day I was talking with a friend about how much I dislike the ubiquitous phrase, “social distancing” to refer to the idea that we should keep six feet of space between ourselves and non-cohabitating people. In fact my son Tyler told me a joke today that social distancing is a fancy way of describing a restraining order!

All joking aside, I’ve had a gut repulsion to the term “social distancing.” It has never sat well with me until about six weeks ago I noticed that some businesses began using the term, “physical distancing” and I began to ponder how important the distinction is between social and physical distancing.

The term “social distancing” says to me that I am to do the following thing literally: Avoid ALL social interactions. What? At face value, one could argue that we are to avoid all social situations–no socialization period! WOW! I know, I know—that’s not what most understand it to mean, but I question anything with flagrant ambiguity.  I would argue that it’s not inclusive enough. Let’s float the idea that “social distancing” applies to only in-person social encounters, and not all social interactions as I suggested previously. Even then, I would understand social distancing would apply only to social interactions. What about medical interactions, or business interactions? Are those exempt from distancing because they are not in social situations? I think we all know that those types of interactions are NOT exempt from distancing rules. I wish I could understand why social distancing came to be the preferred term and not what I would argue is the better term, physical distancing.

The term “physical distancing” is a more inclusive and exact description of what should be taking place during the pandemic. This phrase lets me know the following things:

  1. While the term “social distancing” might be misunderstood to apply to only social interactions or ANY social interaction really, “physical distancing” is clearly promoting behaviors related to my body (corpus) and where it is in relation to other people.
  2. It’s my physical body that needs to be distanced from others in all situations-not just social interactions.

I’m concerned that the term “social distancing” might be misunderstood to imply that we are to avoid social interaction altogether. Surely we are not that literal, but some have avoided any in-person interaction during this time when I believe we need each other more than ever. In fact I wold argue that we need to be less social distant figuratively than we were before the pandemic began. We can, and should be, more socially connected while being physically distant. 

One of the most difficult parts of living through quarantine was the loss of ability to interact with others regularly. Ministry became increasingly difficult as we had to learn to interact with our church over video calls and livestream worship services. These technological tools became a lifeline for us to stay spiritually and socially interactive with others. Personally, my brothers, sister, and Dad have begun regular video calls each week to check in with each other, something we didn’t do well enough before. Our social interaction has increased even though we’ve been physically distant. We should be more socially interactive while being physically distant. 

It’s vital that we as the intergenerational church make sure that we not remain socially distant from our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially our eldest members who may need extra encouragement and help. We must continue to adhere to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV: therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  We must find ways of encouraging and spurring one another on while being physically distant. I encourage you to find at least one way to do that today. Be an encouragement and make a difference in someone’s life today.