These times of isolation and having to do without a lot of our usual comforts have been hard on everyone. It may be that there will soon be some relaxation of the lockdown rules. Have we learned anything by all of this?
As a very old lady, I am used to being alone so it hasn’t been that bad for me, but I have been thinking of a long-ago time when my children were small and my doctor husband was away for a few months in Hong Kong on a short term mission.
I had four children: three under three, plus a six year old. Two were still in diapers, and one potty-training, before the era of disposable diapers. My two year old, missing his daddy, was refusing to eat. My youngest, with a history of respiratory problems, had a slight cold the day my husband left. Within two days the slight cold had become bronchitis and he was deteriorating quickly. I called our pediatrician, and he said he would come out (doctors did house calls in those days) and see the baby. It turned out he had double bronchial pneumonia and needed oxygen and would have to go to hospital. Coincidentally, we were having a genuine blizzard that night, and I had just learned to drive a few months earlier. I hadn’t had much experience driving, since we only had one car and my husband always had it during his 15 hour work days. I was very anxious about driving in the storm, especially with a sick baby in the car. I told myself to be a grownup, and just do what I needed to do.
I called a neighbor to see if their daughter could babysit while I took the baby to the hospital, and to my relief the whole family came to stay while the husband drove us to the hospital and brought me back. The baby was in hospital for almost two weeks, and during that time several of my neighbors alternated coming each afternoon for a couple of hours to let me get to the hospital to see the baby and do my grocery shopping and other necessary errands. After the baby was released from hospital, they still came once a week so I could do my errands. I deeply appreciated their help. Just the same, for most of the time I was completely alone with the children, confined to the house by the cold Ontario winter and nursing a recovering sick child. In addition, I still needed to care for my other three children, and maintain the house, the cooking, the laundry, and whatever. I know others have had to deal with much harder and more prolonged difficulties, but I think that experience has helped me understand a very little of the frustration and sometimes desperation many families are feeling during this time of confinement and isolation.
The only thing that got me through that time was clinging to the truth that I was not truly alone. God was with me, and He cared for me. I had to take it day by day, and just do the best I could. My sense of God’s protective hand gave me courage and although I was sometimes frightened, I could lean on Him and get through the next minute, or the next hour. I was glad that my husband was able to do this service for Him, but at the same time I sometimes felt overwhelmed by my share of his ministry. I was a little afraid to have to make unilateral decisions and take all the responsibility for the family. I began to appreciate a fraction of the burden of single mothers or young widows. Nevertheless, out of difficulty the Lord was able to bring blessing, as always. I learned that I had more strength and patience than I thought I did. I learned about the kindness of others, and my neighbors and I became better friends. I was blessed by learning how to receive their kindness and they were blessed by their giving. I became closer than ever to my children, and we learned together to enjoy each other and to find ways to co-exist happily.
The thing is, no experience, even difficult ones, should be wasted. Everything is an opportunity for growth and learning. You may not be able to see it at the time, but in the future you will be able to look back and see how there was growth through the trial, or recognize God’s faithfulness in providing just what you needed… maybe not what you would have liked, but meeting the needs.
The most important thing to remember is that ‘the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
(2 Chronicles 20:15, NIV) We put our lives in His hands, and we do what we know to do of His will, and then let Him bring things to His own conclusion. Sometimes, if things don’t work out in the way we wanted, we just have to trust in His better wisdom, and in the fact that His intent toward us is alway good, and that He knows the end from the beginning. Over and over in my spiritual walk I have been reminded that difficulty and challenges are often the path to deeper growth and learning. If our goal is to be made more like Christ, then we can’t expect our paths to be smooth and trouble free. James tells us, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when ever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1: 2 NIV)
All this is good to remember about our spiritual growth and walk, but how does He comfort and provide our needs? How does He handle the physical challenges of our trials and temptations? He often does it through the fellowship and love of other people. If my neighbors had not been available and willing to help, I would still have survived: I would have had to pack up all the kids in the car and just drive through the storm. I would have had to find other ways to get my groceries, if I couldn’t take a sick child out into the winter weather. But ~ the Lord is gracious, and He sent the neighbors, voluntarily, to help.
I might add that these were not friends from my own church. They were from other (non-fundamentalist/evangelical) denominations ~ and they were believers, in spite of what I had been taught about main-line denominations! Their hearts belonged to the Lord, and they demonstrated His love in practical ways. I am ashamed to write that the people from my own church did nothing at all to help, nor did they call to see if I needed anything, or about the baby’s welfare until shortly before my husband was scheduled to return. Two ladies eventually came with a plate of cookies and stayed fifteen minutes. They didn’t ask if there was anything they could do to help, and seemed satisfied to believe that they had now done their duty. You see, the medical mission that my husband was on was not sponsored by our church or denomination; it was sponsored by a Christian medical organization. Our church was very insular and legalistic, and since my husband’s being away was not connected to our church, they didn’t feel obligated to acknowledge it or help in any way. The cookie ladies seemed rather proud of themselves for their visit. I might also add that shortly after my husband returned, he was invited to speak and show his slides of the work at almost every church in our small city, including the dear nursing nuns from the Catholic hospital. The only place he was not invited was our own church. We left that church shortly afterward and went elsewhere to a church that let love, not smug spiritual pride, guide their actions.
This is the thing: we are here; it is our mission to show His love. We are to love one another, and care for one another, and by these actions, demonstrate the love of God to the unbelieving world. I am now quite old and physically fragile. In these difficult times I found that neighbors whom I hadn’t known well were calling to ask if I needed anything. Over the past winter my front walks were shoveled. Often my trash bins are brought in from the street to the front of the garage. One neighbor brought me both Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, hot and delicious, wearing her mask, of course, and staying well away until I retrieved the plate from the top of the trunk of my car where she had left it. Other neighbors have offered help at any time. People from my present church called to see if I needed anything, and they brought food and gifts, and left them on my front steps. I receive cards of encouragement from several on a routine basis. Wearing masks and using social distancing, one couple came and fixed a few small things that needed doing. I am also sending notes of encouragement to other shut-ins, or calling them, and we are all praying for one another’s specific problems. None of these things had ever happened to such an extent before COVID ~ somehow the curse has also brought blessings. We are closer to our family and friends because suddenly we recognize how much we miss them and how dear they are to us.
The Church has many problems, but at the core are loving, caring, and thoughtful people of good will who want to help. Their love for the Lord is demonstrated by their love for others. I am so encouraged as I see case after case of genuine kindness and concern.
I just want to encourage everyone to keep on. This is how we overcome the world: fill our lives with prayer and loving action toward not only “our own”, but toward all those who come into our lives. In all this we need to remember that we do not claim any goodness of our own, but that we are merely to be channels of His blessing.
“Channels only, blessed Master, but with all Thy wondrous power flowing
through us, Thou canst use us, every day and every hour.”
Photo: Allie Wagner, all rights reserved