Last summer, my husband and I planned a multi-city European trip for this June with a handful of his students and their family members. As we watched countries shutter businesses and borders this spring, my heart sank in anticipation. A fateful e-mail in April sealed our trip’s fate: delayed until 2021. The cancellations continued, and many milestones and family gatherings took place over a computer screen. These losses feel petty in the face of actual death, but there’s a prevailing sense of loss over careful plans upended, of simple pleasures denied, of uncertainty and fear over our carefully curated lives.
The Bible addresses times like ours, and as I read it, I’m challenged to leave my self-pity behind. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul exhorts his readers, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (NKJV).* This injunction feels especially challenging with each news chyron that scrolls on our screens, but as I’ve begun counting my blessings, I realize that God has given me much to rejoice over. Allow me to share some of the rich blessings I’ve gleaned from a COVID summer “stuck” at home.
My Family Is Healthy
I was blessed to be born into a large, loving family, and doubly blessed to have married into a family that embraced me. I pray every day for my loved ones’ health and safety, and so far, God has provided a hedge of protection. This is not a small thing. When I think about the people who have already mourned the loss of a loved one, I feel humble that the ones I love are, thus far, free from COVID-19. The zeal to keep us healthy has also been a blessing, because it has provided me with purposeful modes of living. If I want to keep my loved ones healthy, I need to wear a mask. If I want my parents to stay safe, I cannot take selfish risks. Truthfully, the great love for my family has provided me purpose in a time when everyone feels adrift, and simple acts of safety have been transformed into showing love for others around me.
I Have Regained Lost Time
My husband works for an Adventist school. I am active in ministries in our home church. We have a vibrant young adult ministry, of which we both partake, and our group of friends is dynamic and active. All these things are blessings, although it means juggling complicated schedules and cramming activities into our spare time. The last few years have started to feel hectic, and when everything shut down on March, I was initially startled by the seeming emptiness that time took on. Quickly, though, I learned to revel in the new stillness of my life. My husband and I have gotten to spend more time together, and we’ve enjoyed shared activities, spiritual conversations, and professional challenges together from home. When our life returns to a state of “normalcy” more akin to what we’ve known, I’ll look back fondly on this period of our lives, when we were able to spend more time together without juggling multiple obligations.
The Sabbath Is a True Day of Rest
I did not realize how much emotional work went into making Sabbath feel special until I had to stay at home and that work was rendered unnecessary. While the Adventist Church emphasizes a restful Sabbath, too often our actual Sabbath practice is crammed with obligations, particularly spiritual enrichment for our children and young adults. This programming is, as one of my high school classmates noted, important, but not particularly restful for the adults (especially women) who plan and execute such vital activities. When our governor issued a stay-at-home order for my state, Sabbath opened up in a new way—I could spend hours in quiet, enjoy a leisurely meal, read the Bible without hurry, and study God’s book of nature (as Ellen White calls it) without a sense of rushing to “the next thing.” Out of all the blessings God has provided from this summer at Camp COVID, I didn’t expect a renewed vigor from Sabbath to be one of them. I hope and pray that we can retain this restful joy, particularly for women who have borne untold emotional, physical, and spiritual labor in the effort to make Sabbath “special” for families or churches (often both), and thus may feel left out of the rest God promises us.
Give thanks in everything? Simple recounting of God’s gifts to me has shown that even amid pain and uncertainty, there is still so much for which I can be grateful. May you dwell in the shadow of the Almighty, as I am learning to do.
Bonnie McLean is adjunct faculty of English at two colleges and coleader of young adult ministries at the Hinsdale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Illinois.
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.