Why is Peggy sitting alone in a restaurant? This photo was taken two years ago on the Friday that our governor ordered a shutdown of all businesses to stall the Covid pandemic.
We had twenty-fours before the shut-down order would take effect. We rushed to our favorite Italian restaurant for a special birthday meal. It was 6 pm and we sat alone. It looked like the zombie apocalypse had happened. We never thought it would be another year before we would eat out again!
At first we joked that the pandemic lockdown was like a cross between a vacation and the apocalypse. Introverts loved the experience because they could work alone. Extroverts discovered zoom chats. Children had school off. But soon the novelty vanished and reality took over.
No one could have predicted what happened next. We faced a major civil rights crisis. The hoped-for vaccine became a test of civil liberties. The redefining of gender roles and sexuality became a media obcession. Families feuded over wearing masks. We had a contentious Presidential election. Churches lost attendees as people scrambled for on-line services.
These are the times when our Lord turns challenges to redemptive moments. He has no compulsion to tell us why the pandemic occurred. But one thing is certain, life events — like a pandemic — become His classroom for learning.
I often think about this quote from the nineteenth century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Earth is crammed with Heaven,Elizabeth Barrett Browning
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees,
takes off his shoes,
the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Earth is crammed with the presence of God (Psalm 139:7). However, we’re often like Jacob exclaiming, “The Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). He often appears in the most mundane forms and circumstances — such as a common bush. But are we looking for Him? How do we sense His teaching presence in our lives? Do we take off our shoes and encounter him in life or do we fritter away our time picking blackberries?
It’s now two years since that Italian meal. I’m stopping to reflect on what our Lord has taught me in his classroom of life. Three simple lessons have emerged.
I get lost in the weeds of life. This golfing expression is the lament of the golfer who loses his ball in the weeds; the underbrush is blocking his sight and his game. I get lost in the weeds of life and lose my perspective on what’s important.
Like many of you, I became slightly addicted to the news. I would toggle back and forth between CNN and Fox News. When I did this, it was like living in two different worlds. My emotions ranged between fear, anger, and helplessness. I repeatedly “lost heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16) — losing the hope that an eternal perspective offers.
My time with God and friends got me out of the weeds. I needed the reminder that this “light momentary affliction” was preparing me for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” To stay out of the weeds, I need to “look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
I need inspiration. The Latin for “inspire” means to in-flame or to blow into. I need our Lord to inflame my heart, to blow into my life hope, joy, peace, and love. I need inspiration.
Over the last two years, one inspiring source has been what I call “devotional” books. Devotional books touch my heart not my head. I generally know the right things to believe but my heart needs to catch up with my brain. I need the Spirit of God to constantly ignite my heart.
I don’t worry about applying what I read in these devotional books; I read to be inspired and focus on God. I’ve read nearly 20 devotional books in two years. My latest is a wonderful book titled The God of All Things by Andrew Wilson.
The author takes simple everyday objects in the Scriptures — wind, dust, donkeys, clay pots, flowers, clothes — and describes how God speaks to us throughs the things He has created. I leave each reading inspired.
I also need inspiring people. I have friends who lift my spirits, who help me re-focus on God, who challenge me to get out of the weeds of life. The author of Proverbs is so insightful: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). I need good words from good friends to keep me inspired to follow after God.
I want certainty but I need wisdom. I’ve had countless discussions on the pros and cons of wearing masks, the legitimacy of the vaccination process, or the questioning of politicians’ motives. I want science to be consistent, politicians to be honest, and friends to be in agreement. I want certainty in the midst of uncertainty. However, what I really need is wisdom.
From Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, we discover that wisdom does not serve to provide one-size-fits-all answers; these books are written “to stimulate our own reflection.” Theologian Daniel Estes notes that “the standard approach of wisdom [in Proverbs] was to observe life carefully in order to discern patterns that could be expressed as lessons for life.” Wisdom is defined simply as “skillful living.”
Scientists, news reporters, and politicians cannot offer certainty. My attempts to find absolute certainty in often conflicting political and scientific positions are a vain search when done “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
“Under the sun” conveys forming conclusions about life from the perspective of looking at the world as it is, a world uninhabited by its Creator. News reporters and scientists have only the vantage point of the natural world to form conclusions. While those are helpful they’re not ultimately conclusive.
I constantly need an “over the sun perspective,” the insight and hope that comes from focusing on God and His kingdom. This over the sun perspective gives wisdom but doesn’t guarantee certainty.
What is God teaching you through this pandemic’s classroom? Are you looking to the burning bush or are you a blackberry picker? Here are some questions I’ve asked to help me identify God’s lessons in His everyday classroom of life.
- What have I learned about God? about faith? about myself?
- What trials have been particularly challenging and how have I addressed them?
- What are the things that I’m grateful for that were covid induced?
- What will I tell my children (or grandchildren or future friends) about what I’ve learned from the pandemic?