It is a hardly an April Fool’s joke that we find ourselves in today. It feels more like a science fiction movie. Many of us have spent a lot of energy simply making the transition from our regular lives to what we have been living in the last two or three weeks. It is emotionally draining. Give yourself some time to allow yourself to process what is happening to you.
I find myself slowing down. I find myself at times paralyzed by the atmosphere of fear and catastrophe that the news seems to propogate. I’ve had moments of simply wanting to go back to bed, which I can do. I do not believe I am alone in this feeling. I have also mentioned in the last two sermons a feeling of powerlessness to do anything about what may or may not happen to me and the ones I love. Hand washing and PPE (personal protective equipment) seem to be small in the fight against disease and death.
Of course, there is a larger picture. This is not the first pandemic the world has gone through. It may be unique due to our travel habits worldwide, but it is not unique. We have been driven into isolation. But in the midst of isolation, we can learn from historic communities who have thrived on the solitude available to us. Caring for our children (and extended family’s children may be another challenge in this), but for now let us consider our own mind and heart space.
The monastic community in the early Church sought solitude in the desert and other places to receive from God and to fully commit themselves to God. They had a “rule of life,” boundaries or principles to live by. Perhaps we can learn from some of the internal and spiritual realities they sought to wisely address in their isolation. Ours is forced. Theirs was a choice. But we can choose to trust God in these unusual days.
They used four categories to reflect on their lives: 1) Prayer, 2) Rest, 3) Work, and 4) Relationships. It is safe to say that we all have been affected in these four areas of our lives through the viral outbreak in which we are living.
It can be argued that these four basic areas of life flow from the Genesis account in chapters 1 – 3. We see the relationship with God for the man and the woman. We see the principle of rest, in the seventh day of creation. This wasn’t because God needs rest, this was His provision for us, who do need rest. We see the couple given the work of the garden, and the commands to be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it. Subduing the earth is frowned upon today, but originally it was used in the sense of clearing a portion of a virgin forest to plant crops, and for animals to graze. Today we are to subdue the chaos of our lack of routine as an opportunity for God to meet us as never before.
Prayer is more than a shopping list presented to God. You know this. It is about presenting ourselves, our thoughts, quietly before the Lord. We need to get beyond the noise of our lives and we have more opportunity now. We need to hear God’s voice. But hearing God also includes listening to Him as He helps us hear what is going on inside ourselves. Besides thanksgiving and praise/worship, we are to acknowledge our own feelings and internal state as we approach God. For example, Are you anxious? Give your anxiety to the Lord. Are you grieving? Give your loss to the Lord. Loss of schedule. Loss of employment. Loss of structure. Many losses…health, yours and those close to you. What are you feeling? Do you know? Prayer time is not simply talking to God about others, it also includes your own understanding of yourself as you bring yourself before God. Not getting in touch with what is going on inside of you will make you less able to minister to others. You pour out what has been poured into you. Prayer time is that pouring in time. The monastic community took regular times throughout the day for various kinds of prayers and worship. You can set up your day similarly. Scripture is an important part of that. Determine to read through large portions of Scripture in these days. It is not about understanding everything you read. It is about devoting yourself to the One who chose to reveal Himself through the narrative, story lines of a history of a specific place and people.
Rest. Decide to find one day per week where you will refrain from work. Begin to know or remind yourself of the difference between work and the other parts of your life. Devote it to the Lord. Do fun things: walk, games, puzzles, movies. Recreation includes many things. I have tried to make Friday that day for me. It may be changing in this season, particularly as we record rather than meet together. Get your literal rest. Nap. Now is your chance to change your schedule to sleep. You know what renews you. If you don’t, ask someone close to you to help with this. Rest comes through reading for many. You might even consider reading out loud to one another. Determine to keep your day of rest simple. Don’t do unpaid work either.
God has given the people of Israel and us a model of taking a Sabbath, not necessarily Saturday or Sunday, although either is fine, and experiencing His rest. Did you know the Judeo-Christian day begins at sundown, not sunrise? This is why Shabbat (Sabbath) always begins Friday night with a meal prepared the afternoon before (the day before). Then sleep. It is a picture of resting in God’s loving and gracious arms, knowing that God is in charge and we are not. I know many experience sleep problems. We stay awake with worries, anxieties, responsibilities, that are not ours to carry into the new day. Given them anew to God. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Eat with thanksgiving. Sleep, trusting Him.
Work. As we need to rethink rest, so we need to rethink work. This time marked by the name of the virus has been given to us to arrest us. Perhaps you think that only the police make arrests. They do. And their ministry is good. But we also have things like cardiac arrests (heart attacks) that stop us in our lives and make us rethink our lives. Our work has been stopped (95% or more of us). Time to rethink it.
We have the work, which gives us income, our vocation, or calling. It does not define who we are. Or if it does, it is time to rethink it in front of the Lord. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord, giving thanks… (Col. 3:17)
We have the work that needs to be done without pay: groceries, house cleaning, taking out the garbage and recycling, snow removal, yard work, laundry and many other daily chores.
We have child care and home education, grandchildren and other children.
Some of us are writers, bloggers, and now video recording artists…Even our social media posts and thoughts may be a part of our work.
All of us have bodies that need care. We are bodies. Part of our work is making sure the Temple of the Holy Spirit (which is what our bodies are: read 1 Cor. 6:19-20) is in good shape. That means stretching, aerobics, strengthening, even in minimal doses. Some of us are at the physio care part of this. We have neglected our bodies to the point of getting pain and stiffness, so we get physiotherapy and often receive exercises to remedy what’s gone wrong. No matter what part of our lives, we can stretch and move. With life in us, motion is lotion…generally speaking. Taking care of our bodies is part of our work.
Rethink your work. Get God’s perspective on it.
Relationships. People in our lives are extraordinarily important, no matter if we are introverted (prefer to be alone) or extraverted (prefer to be in social settings). The Lord affirms both married and single people in Scripture. If you are married, this person is key in your working out your issues before God, and you are key in helping them work out theirs. Their companionship is a fulfillment of the Genesis promises from the garden. All of us need other relationships, small groups being the best way to find what God wants for us all. Bible Study groups and prayer groups are wonderful ways to experience the church. We are learning how to do these groups by video means. With God’s grace, we will return to our small groups after this viral season, whenever that is. Place a high value on this opportunity for relationship, and learning about Jesus and ourselves through small groups. Jesus used this means in his earthly ministry to gather those who would change the world in His name and by His power.
These insights today come to you by God’s grace partly through things I have learned in my training and education. The four quadrants of prayer/rest/work/relationships specifically comes from Pete Scazzero’s podcast: “Four Ways to flourish in the Midst of Chaos,” found in his Emotionally Healthy Leader series firstname.lastname@example.org, and based on many years of his using this model in New Life Fellowship in New York City, “New Life Fellowship Pastoral Staff Rule of Life: Our Guidelines for Being Together,” April 11, 2008. www.newlife.nyc/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/pastors_rol.pdf
He also says there is a session to help other churches develop their own. Some of the insights for resting come from Robert Morris’ Take the Day Off (New York: Faith Words, 2019).