When news stories first began circulating about a mysterious illness coming out of China, I was sure that the doomsday predictions were overblown. But as the days tick by, we are seeing that it’s worse than we could have imagined. Our lives have been disrupted and it doesn’t seem we will return to normal anytime soon.
I like how the author of Ecclesiastes puts it: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (Eccl. 7:13). The only way forward is to see that God has made our straight paths crooked for a season. In his wisdom, He has pushed a cosmic pause button, and all our plans have fallen apart (Jas. 4:15).
As Christians, we may wonder what God is doing. And while we will never know all his purposes, we must admit that this tragedy is also an opportunity. For the first time in a long while, we have time to reflect and reorder our lives.
In the flurry of life’s expectations, it’s easy to unintentionally let others shape our schedule and priorities. Many times we make commitments because people expect things of us or because we are afraid of missing out. But this forced quieting of our busy schedules is an opportunity to reset our priorities in a way that honours God first.
Ordering Our Schedules
Over the past several weeks of physical distancing, I’ve seen the benefit of unhurried family time. Accommodating my kids’ school schedule at home has been challenging, but the benefits of having more time with them are hard to deny.
Most notably, we’ve had more time to read and discuss God’s word together as a family after dinner. Our kids take turns reading the “family” portion of the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan and then we discuss everyone’s observations. It’s quite simple really, but now that we are not rushed to get to extracurricular activities, we have had more time for meaningful discussions.
Another surprising benefit is that our kids seem happier. Of course they miss their friends, but this slower schedule has reduced their stress and fatigue. We have more time for family bike trips, audiobooks and learning new skills. There is room in the schedule for free unstructured play time and yes, even a little boredom. Granted some stress helps kids develop important life skills like resiliency, but because we have seen the benefits to our family when we slow down, it makes us want to be more thoughtful about what we add back in when the opportunity arises.
Cancelling Our Plans
Just like Paul was prevented from going to Rome (Rom. 1:13) and Jonah was swallowed by a fish, God sometimes thwarts his people’s plans. None of us could have anticipated this global pandemic, but perhaps a change of direction is precisely what we need.
Even as we see all of our well-laid plans come to an end, Christians can be encouraged that the Lord establishes our steps (Prov. 16:9). Yes, we are unsettled and hurting because there is a startling gap between what we had planned to do this spring and what actually happened. But as we are forced to change directions, we can have confidence that God is directing our steps.
Seven years ago I was in the midst of another crisis. The Alberta floods of 2013 made our home unlivable and upended our lives for 18 months. Although difficult, this trial taught me that forced detours are an opportunity to grow.
As the pandemic forces us to slow down, we have an opportunity to learn new skills and assess whether our priorities are in order. In years to come, we may look back and see that we needed our plans cancelled in order to prepare for the future God had for us.
Ordering Our Spiritual Lives
As believers we know that God uses adversity to prune us and help us bear more fruit (John 15). As church buildings remain vacant week after week, the church looks stark and bare, but perhaps God is doing a deep work in us, preparing us for a season of fruitfulness in the days ahead.
One benefit of this pandemic is that we see with stunning clarity our own inability to control a virus or secure our financial situation. We can’t even choose where we go and when. This unwanted reminder of our vulnerability prods us to relinquish our pride and self-reliance. It forces us to walk by faith and not by sight. Our health, productivity or finances may have given us a false sense of security, but now we see Christ’s redeeming work remains a sure and steadfast anchor for our souls (Heb. 6:19).
Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote to a friend about God’s blessing in affliction.
I always feel it a blessed thing when the Saviour takes me aside from the crowd, as He took the blind man out of the town, and removes the veil, and clears away obscuring mists, and by His word and Spirit leads to deeper peace and a holier walk. Ah! There is nothing like a calm look into the eternal world to teach us the emptiness of human praise, the sinfulness of self-seeking and vainglory, to teach us the preciousness of Christ.
Perhaps as God removes the “obscuring mists” and false securities in our lives, we will learn to treasure Christ in a new way. We now have the opportunity to reorder our priorities, our schedules and our spiritual disciplines in order to make the best use of our time (Eph. 5:16).
For everything there is a season. There is a time to break down and a time to build up (Eccl 3:3). As we mourn the loss of our old normal, it may be the ideal time to “break down” unhelpful patterns and habits in our lives so that we can build something better for the future.
It’s painful to see our well-planned lives gone awry, but even as we say goodbye to the old normal, we have good reason to hope for a brighter future.