‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.‘Jeremiah 29:11
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels, and the last few months of Covid-19 sometimes felt like we were all living through a dystopian drama written by H.G. Wells. Fear of infection, the closing of shops and public facilities, social distancing – like most people in the UK, I’ve experienced nothing like this before.
We face new dilemmas and fears. Normal lives have become unravelled, and it will take a great deal of persistent care and thought to disentangle the threads and weave them together again.
‘It will take a great deal of care and thought to disentangle the threads and weave them together again.’
None of this is new. During my time of furlough, I read Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and discovered many of the same things played out on London’s streets 450 years ago. Defoe’s reconstruction of events from his early childhood in 1665 offers strangely familiar eyewitness accounts of social disruption, raging at those in authority, defiance of infection-control measures and displays of selfish and unwise behaviour. (He even includes the weekly statistics for infection rates in different London parishes.)
But Defoe also records many instances of people patiently working hard to make ends meet, to serve their communities unselfishly, to contain the infection, offer comfort and alleviate distress.
An opportunity to hope
It’s a strong reminder that for all of us, there is always a choice between despair and hope. One response turns in on itself, while the other looks outwards for fresh opportunities.
Some people have used lockdown to take more exercise, eat more wisely, learn a new skill or pursue a hobby. I was fortunate: I found time to practise the guitar, do some gardening and finish writing two novels, which are now published as Kindle e-books.
Perhaps for you, this could be a time of further opportunity to try out new things and be more creative. You might re-evaluate what is most important in your life and adapt to the unexpected changes and losses by finding and exercising new muscles of hope and empathy that seek peace for you and the best for others.
An opportunity for faith
Perhaps you could address that longing for God and seek to deepen your faith by spending more time in prayer and studying the Bible. I recommend an extremely helpful book on this from BRF, How to Read the Bible… so that it makes a difference.
Many churches are rethinking what it means to be church, to worship together when the ‘new normal’ either keeps buildings closed or allows them to open only with everyone kept at a distance.
Meanwhile, our online services are drawing in many who would never enter a church building. Just as the physical doors were slammed shut to prevent the virus spreading, the crisis has conversely opened a lot of metaphorical doors for those searching for spiritual comfort and a new depth in their personal lives.
See, I am doing a new thing!Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
During the 20th century, there were two distinct periods when the UK’s Christian churches saw significant growth in numbers attending: during the trauma and disruption of the two world wars. Daniel Defoe similarly noticed a new interest in church among his fellow Londoners of 1665. He wrote:
Indeed, the zeal which they shewed in coming, and the earnestness and affection they shewed in their attention to what they heard, made it manifest what a value people would all put upon the worship of God if they thought every day they attended at the church that it would be their last.
An opportunity to love
So looking forward from all this, as the nights draw in, I wonder:
- What can we do to address and alleviate the impact of coronavirus and lockdown on other people’s physical, mental and spiritual health?
- How might the Christian message of hope be expressed and shared with the many who are experiencing despair and have no faith tradition to draw on for support?
- How might our church celebrations of this autumn’s significant Christian festivals be tailored to address the needs of our communities?
For the Christian church, this is a time of great opportunity to serve and to share the source of our greatest hope. In the passage from Jeremiah that I quoted above, God says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I pray we can all learn to live that hope in ourselves and share it with others over the coming weeks and months.
‘This is a time of great opportunity to serve and to share the source of our greatest hope.’
A prayer for appreciating our opportunities
Teach us, O Lord
What is important about life.
May we not squander it on self;
may we not spoil it with sin;
may we not spend it on the surface,
but live it by grace and with gratitude
for your glory.