These are strange times. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and its global impact seems almost surreal. A sudden emergency state with imposed isolation has many of us reeling. Surely this is a dream. We have never experienced anything like this before. It defies all forecasts, plans and expectations. And what now?
If we have been workaholics, we may find ourselves at home without work to distract us. If we have been social butterflies, we may find that our longing to be among people can no longer be indulged upon a whim. If we have become accustomed to finding meaning in our activities and involvements, we may now be feeling quite lost. How shall we fill the time, space and silence which were previously filled by things that are no longer available to us?
An “All Things” Kind of People
But each new chapter comes with an opportunity. That doesn’t mean that this situation is good in and of itself, but that we can create good in the midst of it. In the same way that God uses “all things” to bring about good (Romans 8:28), his children can model their own hearts and purposes after him to try to do the same.
Is there a discipline that you’ve been too busy or distracted to implement in your life? Try again. What is there to lose? Are there friends and family members that you have not had time for in recent years? Call them. And keep calling them. What about the people in your home? Perhaps now is the time to listen more and talk less, to stay in the room and work things out, even after things begin to feel awkward.
The Parable Next Door
There is a young family whose backyard adjoins mine. I confess that in my mind I call them “the people with the obnoxious children.” I like children… but there are exceptions to every rule. These children are obnoxious. And I’m sure their parents would agree with me, at least deep down.
So generally when they are in their yard and I in mine I can hear the children being obnoxious, and the parents sounding tired, exasperated and terse. The noise of the children is punctuated only by the noise of sharp parental rebukes. This is the furthest thing possible from being a joyful noise.
But this family have become a parable. Both parents are clearly no longer working and suddenly have the care of their children full time. Now when they are outside I hear something completely new: the parents playing with the children, not tired nor exasperated nor terse. And the children have ceased to be obnoxious. Now instead of a group of unhappy people sharing space long after their best energy is spent, they have become a family. Now there are no other interrupting priorities to distract them from giving their best to one another. What will happen when things “go back to normal”? Who can say? But my hope is that the lessons learned and the advances made during this time will have a lasting effect.
Family & Community
So what about you and yours? Can this not be an opportunity to find creative ways to express your love to the people that belong to you? Or to really reach out to those who may be in need? If you have more time than you know what to do with, perhaps you could spend time with them on the phone. Or perhaps you could offer to pick up some groceries for someone without a car. Or perhaps you could weed a garden for a neighbour whose mobility prevents them from doing it themselves.
When Church Isn’t A Place
And maybe, just maybe, this is part of what needs to happen, not just in our families and our communities, but in our churches. What happens to the Church when Church is no longer a group of people gathering in the same place? Either it collapses and ceases to exist, or it must look deeper to find its identity and find new ways of living out its mission.
The great technological abundance of our time can be used for good or for ill. Let’s use it for good! Can we still pray together? Encourage one another? Be edified by great preaching? Seek to reach the lost? We can! And we must.
And here too there’s the chance to learn and grow from these strange times. Only a month ago, shut-ins were at the periphery of communal priorities. Generally speaking, if there were resources left over after programming for families and ensuring the music was top notch, we might think about putting some sermon audio online for those folks. Perhaps at Christmas, they might be brought a poinsettia or a basket of food. But now that the whole community is effectively shut-in we find that we could always have done much, much more for these people, and quickly too. I sincerely hope that all of the new programs and life-streaming services that have been and are being set up during this time will continue into the future; that those of us who have never had a taste of what it’s like to be home-bound will have a new-found compassion for those whose lives won’t “go back to normal,” when the emergency state lifts.
But on a more individual level, we are finding that there are ways in which we have spent our leisure that are suddenly and decisively closed. We cannot go to the theatre, spa or pub. So how will we spend that leisure? We can take all of that time and spend it streaming worthless online content. But I hope we will not. I hope, instead, that we’ll pick up that Bible study plan which has been on the shelf for years. Now is the perfect time to do an honest-to-God assessment of how we have spent our leisure.
Perhaps we’ve long-forgotten the joy to be found in writing a poem or painting a canvas or planting up a garden. Now is the time to remember. The joy to be found in these creative tasks is restorative, but it can also be a blessing to others. So once you’ve dusted off that old hobby, ask yourself who might be blessed if you were to make a birdhouse or a cake or a pair of slippers – for them.
Ultimately what all of these other thoughts flow from is this central point: that these strange times offer us the opportunity to reorient our lives around God. In all of the busyness and distraction of normal living, this has a tendency to slip. And without the time and space to self-examine, it just keeps slipping. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this has occurred during the season of Lent. In the cycle of the church calendar, now is a time for soul-searching, for self-examination, for repentance, and for spiritual house-cleaning.
Have you been feeling anxious about the “issues” of the day? God is still in control. Are you anxious about your future? Believe me, I understand. But when we re-orient our time, our minds, and our hearts, we remember the character of the God in whom we believe. And we remember that we can trust him because he loves us: the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross makes this clear.
So if you’ve fallen out of the habit of morning and evening devotions, begin again. If your daily rituals have become rushed and perfunctory, slow them down and savour them. Leave space for silence, listening, asking God to bring to mind those people you may have forgotten. Are there prayerful traditions that can be built into the life of your home? A brief shared reading or grace at meal times. A hymn sung together before bed. What about reading to one another while working on quiet tasks?
A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity
These are indeed strange times. And while I for one am eager to see panic subside and industries resurrect, this moment of strange stillness may not occur again in our lifetime. Take this opportunity to ensure that what remains of our time on earth is spent in the light of God’s presence, carrying out his purpose, no matter what circumstances come.