This season of pandemic and isolation has produced much writing about lament, and rightly so. We are cut off from so much that was not only familiar, but also necessary. From fellowship with one another on personal and corporate levels (think, church), to school and work, most of what was normal in our lives has been turned upside down. Not to mention that lives are at stake, threatened either directly or indirectly by the virus that has raced around the globe. Our fears and laments are very real, and I do not wish to diminish them in any way.
But I do want to encourage you to look above these fearful realities for a moment. In his word, God never minimizes real tragedy and pain. While looking squarely at the awful consequences of the fall, scripture holds out God’s divine solution to our earthly ills. Christ Jesus humbled himself, suffered, died, and rose again in order to free us from our bondage to sin and death. Though we still suffer, groaning inwardly as we eagerly await the day when we will be free from suffering, the Bible assures us that all things experienced by God’s children—the good and the bad—all of these are being used to accomplish his good purposes in and for us (Rom. 8:23, 28). And these purposes aren’t just being pummeled into us (though it may sometimes feel like they are). The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness through our prayers, even giving us the desire and power to obey God as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Rom. 8:26; Phil. 2:12–13).
Therefore, Paul can write in Philippians chapter 4 that we can always rejoice, knowing that the Lord is at hand. And this knowledge of the nearness of the Lord is an antidote to anxiety as we bring our real fears and needs to him in prayer (Phil. 4:4-6). This assurance of and access to our compassionate and powerful Lord leads to his precious promise that his unsurpassable peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (4:7).
And this is what I’m aiming for. Based on the work of Christ on our behalf and the promises of God’s presence with us and his peace amidst our trials—even this present pandemic and isolation—we can lift our eyes from the painful reality that encompasses us and look to the glorious reality that overcomes our fears. Life is hard—true! But God is good—TRUE! Holding these truths together, look up, as God encourages us through Paul:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. — Philippians 4:8
Engage your Holy Spirit-empowered mind and think about good things! Fill your heart with reminders of God’s compassion and care, his truth and justice, his purity and beauty and excellence. Fight back against the darkness with the light of God’s word and the good things that he has done and is still doing! Do this first by filling your heart and mind with scripture. But also look around, there are testimonies of God’s goodness all around us, even among unbelievers, because “[e]very good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
I personally have several good things that have happened not only in spite of, but because of the pandemic and our resulting quarantine. For one, my husband, who has spent the last two years lobbying for permission to telework, and was only recently allowed to for two days a week, is now teleworking every day—as is his entire office. Yay! Another benefit of our newly slowed-down lives is that we are getting to know our neighbors. While maintaining proper social-distancing, we’ve spent several evenings visiting in the front yard, swapping jigsaw puzzles and stories, and learning that there are a lot of folks in our neighborhood we’ve never seen before who now take walks every evening with their entire families.
The week before the pandemic shut down everyday life here in America, our landlord informed us that they want to sell the house we’ve lived in for the last seven years, and they gave us a 30-day notice to vacate the property. Thanks to the Coronavirus, our deadline was extended to the end of August and we have a more reasonable window of time to hunt for a house (with new social distancing/sanitizing protocols, of course).
The best benefit that I have experienced has been more time in God’s word. I thought I would have more time to write and to read other things, and that varies from day to day. But my time spent reading the Bible has been precious, unrushed, and fulfilling. On Sunday I do lament our physical separation from our church family, but am more keenly aware of our spiritual connection through the Holy Spirit as we worship together in Christ, though isolated in our homes. The day of Sabbath rest has been more restful, and I’m hoping to maintain that once our isolation has ended. These longings, growing stronger each Sunday, for the physical presence of the saints and their fellowship, as well as the blessings of Sabbath rest, are good gifts. The awareness, made sharper by our isolation, of our unity in Christ, is also a good gift.
I’m certain that if you look up and around, you too can come up with a list of good gifts the Lord has given you through this time. There’s no need to pretend the difficulties aren’t there. But look to the Lord, who is at hand, and bring your cares to him. God is still good, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still true, and the Holy Spirit is still at work in the lives of his people. May his peace wash over you, wherever you are, enabling you to see with clearer vision the goodness of the Lord, even now.