There is something very confronting about marking a whole year of lockdown! The past twelve months have turned our world upside down in so many ways and here in the UK it has often felt like we have slipped into the pages of a dystopian novel: streets emptied, schools closed and daily updates on case numbers and new restrictions taking over the headlines.
And yet we have had the privilege of walking through these times knowing our ever good, wise and sovereign Lord, who is not writing a horror story, but is beautifully working all things together for good as he ushers in his kingdom.
I’d love to share three lessons that stand out as I look back over a year of lockdown.
Life is not on pause
During the first lockdown we had something of a national flour shortage, as home bread making soared in popularity. As much of the normal bustle of life ground to a halt, websites filled up with suggestions of new hobbies and activities to fill the time.
It was very easy to be drawn into the narrative of life being on pause, waiting until normality was able to resume. We initially found ourselves very frustrated; we were just a year into a new ministry role amongst university students in Durham and ‘normal’ life for us revolved around spending time closely with as many people as possible – everything that was outlawed by lockdown measures. We were often overwhelmed by the long list of things that we couldn’t do to love and serve our church family, or seek to connect with our wider community.
Yet God has graciously taught us that our life and purpose do not consist in the things that we do for him. In Mark 10:45 we read that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”. We have often been reminded of the story of Mary and Martha; as Martha rushes around doing many things for Jesus, it is Mary’s quiet rest at Jesus’ feet, listening to him, which draws his praise.
It has been both humbling and liberating to realise that if, in his sovereignty, God has allowed a tight national lockdown, then the way he is asking us to be faithful doesn’t look like mass hospitality!
Ultimately his desire for us is our sanctification, as he works all things that we might be conformed more and more to the image of his Son (Rom 8:28-29) and lockdown has brought many opportunities to bring areas of sin to light that we might grow and change… This last year has certainly not been a waste in God’s economy!
Our Heavenly Father knows what we need
As the first lockdown was announced last March, waves of shock and fear overtook the nation. Looking back I think I rolled between big picture anxiety about the health crisis unfolding, and more imminent feelings of being overwhelmed as we woke each morning to the prospect of another day with three small children unable to leave our house or see friends or family. There were many exhausted conversations with my husband that began, “what if…” or “how much longer…” and it has certainly been a year of the unexpected.
Yet our Heavenly Father knows what we need. As I have feared the future and the large scale impacts of the virus and lockdown measures, he reminds me, “Do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt 6:31-32).
As I looked to the days ahead that stretched out dauntingly with the question of what to do with three small children at home, he challenged me to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
As I was tempted to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of what might lie ahead, he corrects me, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34).
The last year has been full of uncertainty, changes and cancelled plans. Yet amidst the unknown, the Lord has kindly taught me lots about what it means to focus on what he has placed in front of me each day, just doing the next right thing.
As we have kept just taking the next step, our Heavenly Father has graciously given us what we needed to trust him today, seek him today and endeavour to serve him faithfully in the opportunities and situations he has placed us in today.
How wonderfully we can testify to the truths expressed in Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
The wait is nearly over
We are now looking with positivity at a route out of lockdown restrictions, which for the first time in over a year seems to chart a way back towards a more normal life. So much of the last year has felt dominated by a sense of waiting, and as we read through the Bible we see waiting is a repeated experience for God’s people.
However, I have been convicted that often in the last twelve months my waiting and hoping has been for the wrong things. Our goal is not to make it through to the end of lockdown, but to stand firm in our faith until the return of the Lord Jesus: “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 2:13).
We are all waiting for freedom, community, hope, fullness, joy, health and safety, but these things are not found in the easing of restrictions, or even in a cure for coronavirus.
They are found only in Jesus, in waiting for him, and the arrival of his Kingdom. There will be a time when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
That time won’t be realised with the summer date for the end of restrictions, but we can look back on the last year with confidence that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11).