“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). After a trying and uncertain 2020, many began 2021 with high hopes. The turn of the year was supposed to be the turn of events. COVID-19 and all its effects of fear, death, and disruption of our lives was to be a thing of the past. The tough times were supposed to be behind us. But then came 2021, shattering those hopes and increasing the effects, leaving everyone exhausted, frustrated, and despairing.
Much can be said about the troubles of the last eighteen months, both perceived and actual. However, I will content myself with asking what lessons we might learn? I have three to share with you:
1. Tough Times Show Our Frailties
For all our efforts to appear strong and in control, we are remarkably frail people. It does not take much to unsettle and disrupt our lives. One message, one phone call, one action can quickly plunge us into a panic. If there is one thing the pandemic has reminded us of, it is that we are a frail and finite people. We are here today and no more tomorrow (James 4:14). We may be seemingly healthy today and needing oxygen support tomorrow.
Furthermore, there is very little we can do to stop the tragedies of life. When we realise everything we have could be taken away in a moment, overwhelming and crippling fear fills our hearts. When things are tough we have to painfully come to terms with the reality that we are not in control. As finite and frail humans, we were created to be eternally dependent on the almighty sovereign God.
As finite humans, we were created to be eternally dependent on the almighty God.
There is an air of arrogant confidence about the human race. We are confident of our works and in ourselves. We are confident in our things. The more prosperous we are, the more likely we are to be proud. Health, education, entertainment and government control are some of the things we pride ourselves in. But COVID-19 has systematically ripped these things from us in one way or another and in the process revealed some underlying idolatry. Could this be the Lord reminding us of our frailty?
2. Tough Times Highlight the Clutter and Busyness
In our frailty and finiteness, we tend to accumulate and cling to fleeting things. This could be the material things we acquire or the programmes and activities we use to fill our lives. When closures and restrictions came into place last year, it became abundantly clear that we clutter our lives with things and activities. Many of these are completely unnecessary. When all has been said and done, the things we hold onto tightly are fading. Tough times prove this inevitability. And as we lie on our death beds, many of the things and activities we hold dear will count for nothing.
As we lie on our death beds many of the things we hold dear will count for nothing.
We are often guilty of crowding our lives with the pursuit of things. Busy has become fashionable. Quiet, rest and solitude are no longer desirable. When COVID-19 forced us to isolate, we found ourselves forced to rethink our lives. We are reminded of these words from the Bible: “life is not about the abundance of things” (Luke 12:15), and that Paul exhorted Christians to aspire to live quiet and content lives (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12), rather than running from activity to activity while working with insatiable ambition. The last year was a reminder to get perspective.
3. We Need Community for Tough Times
COVID-19 has served as a reminder of how essential physical gathering is to our spiritual health.
We live in an individualistic society. But for all our arrogant, self-centred individualism, we need still community. The “one another” passages in the Bible teach us this truth. Further, we are exhorted not to forsake the gathering (Hebrews 10:24-25). We were created to live in a community, from the family to our larger communities. When we become Christians, we are saved to a community: the local church. One essential aspect of a healthy community is presence. Doing life together. Ordinary though it may be, there is power and encouragement in physical presence. Thus COVID-19 has served as a reminder of how essential physical gathering is to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Livestreams and Zoom meetings have revealed to us that there is no substitute for physical gathering. Screens cannot replace face-to-face conversations. Waves are not substitutes for handshakes and hugs. Online and virtual things are only helpful tools and supplements. They cannot substitute life altogether.
Things Might Get Tougher Still
As new waves and variants of COVID-19 pop up, as debates on the efficacy of vaccines rage and as restrictions relax or tighten in your country, what lessons are you learning? In the midst of the anguish, anxiety, and anger, do not miss the lessons the Lord may be teaching you. And whatever the lessons, remember these three. Firstly, you are frail and finite. But God is eternal, wise, and sovereign; trust him. Secondly, your life is very likely cluttered with things and you are too busy. So slow down and root out the distractions; delight in God. Thirdly, we must pursue meaningful relationships within the Christian community if we are to survive these tough times.