The coronavirus pandemic has hit, and our lives have changed dramatically; possibly in some ways, permanently. The dark side of the pandemic no doubt fills your screens and devices for large chunks of the day, so here, I want to highlight the brighter side. “Every cloud has a silver lining” is a hackneyed cliché, yet no less true for that. And of course, the Christian lives according to the foundational principle that good is always ultimately stronger than evil. We find this principle all over the Bible—here is a small sample:
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy,
for though I have fallen, yet will I arise,
because even if I should sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me (Micah 7:8).
And we know that all things work together
for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Not that I speak in regard to need,
for I have learned in whatever state I am,
to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things I have learned
both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11–13).
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
What matters in life is not that bad things happen to us. What really matters is what we make of the things that happen to us, good or bad. It was bad that Christ was crucified, but He turned it into the most stunning act of self-sacrificial love by humbly accepting it and even praying for the ones who put Him to death, and then defeating death by His resurrection. Merely complaining about our troubles diminishes us as human beings and makes us passive victims. Accepting the situation and using it to transform ourselves for the better makes us victors, just like Christ.
So, in that spirit, here are 19 blessings we might derive from the curse of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Practical Love.
The suspension of many of your normal activities is actually an opportunity to show self-sacrificial love for the vulnerable, the weak, the sick, and the elderly in a very practical way. Do you have elderly neighbours? Please take every precaution around them, but see if they need anything. Share supplies with them, or at least share a smile and the knowledge that someone cares. Ring someone who is lonely and help them feel a little less alone. Who else around you could do with a little love?
- Learn to live again.
The Roman politician and philosopher Seneca once wrote, “While we’re waiting to live, life passes us by”(Letters to Lucilius, I.1). Don’t wait to live anymore. Actually live, now, in the present. Go for walks in a park. Ride your bike around. Look at sunrises and sunsets. Work in the garden. Rediscover the beauty of nature.
Especially with those at home. Lately, even if they’re in the same room, families are often in very different electronic worlds. Rediscover the comfort of conversation. Share ideas and experiences, hopes and fears. Feel again that you are not alone. And if you live alone, connect with others by phone or internet. Listen to their voices and see their facial expressions. When we look upon another’s face, we look upon the face of Christ.
- Exercise, cook, eat well.
If you have more time on your hands, use some of it to look after the gift of the body that God gave you. Take the time to prepare a healthy meal instead of junk food. Share the cooking experience with the loving God who created the food you are preparing and gave you the senses with which to appreciate and enjoy it. You don’t need a gym to do push ups and sit ups. Who needs weights when you can lift your pet dog (always obtain the dog’s permission first).
- Catch up.
Instead of sitting around binge-watching, get up and look around the house. Get all those jobs done that you’ve been putting off forever. The great desert fathers all understood the emotional, physical, and spiritual value of manual labour. Work up a sweat, and enjoy the satisfaction of achieving something, however small. And what about all those books you’ve been to get around to reading one day. That day has finally come!
- Learn something.
Use this time to enrich your life and become a more interesting, well-rounded person. Take an online course in water painting or playing the guitar or quantum physics. Read some Plato. Carve a wren out of a bar of soap. Write a poem. Be creative. The world is an interesting place.
- See life differently.
We pause our usual lives against the background of a potentially fatal disease. This is a time to appreciate how fleeting life is and all the things in it we normally think so permanent. Gain a more eternal perspective.
The suspension of public liturgies and access to Holy Communion starkly makes you realise just what a huge blessing unrestricted access is. When we read of Churches being closed in centuries past it seems so far away, but now we know ourselves just what that feels like. And if you happen to still be alive and mostly healthy, appreciate just how fragile that gift of health is and thankful for it every moment. Having personally once experienced two weeks of unremitting agonising pain from a kidney stone and its consequences, I can never again do something as simple as go to the bathroom without profound gratitude. Every day, God showers a thousand times more good things upon us than the few bad things He allows, but you often don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.
- A More Sacramental Life.
Being deprived of liturgy is forcing us all to understand the nature of the sacraments—and the Eucharist in particular—much better. In brief, the Eucharistic Liturgy doesn’t finish when the priest says, “Go in peace…” In fact, he adds, “The Lord be with you.” There’s a reason. You’re not leaving the building alone—you are carrying Christ out into the world. You are now the Body of Christ—His hands and His lips, doing His work and speaking His words. No suspension of prayers at Church stops us from continuing this very important part of the liturgy.
- Quiet Time.
Remember how often you thought, I wish I had more time to pray and read my Bible? Guess what … Now you have time to really I mean, real focus and relationship without distraction, without hurry. Savour the presence of God.
- (Re)Discover Your Bible.
As the man Jesus is the Word of God in human flesh, the Bible is the Word of God in human language. Nothing can stop you from opening your heart and becoming one with Him through this written Word. And if you find it hard to benefit from reading, dig out (or purchase) that cool book you heard about that will help you engage with your Bible more fully (my suggestion: “Scripture in Tradition” by John Breck).
- Reflection and re-evaluation of our direction in life.
Do I have to do all the things I’ve doing / own all the things I own / be all the places I go / say all the words I say? What really matters?
We all needed desperately to slow down. Now you have to. Make the most of it. Spend some time in the garden looking at the flowers and the little birdies. Warm yourself in the sunlight. Lie on your back at night and watch the stars twinkle at you across the vastness of empty space. Remember that you are part of big, beautiful universe suffused with the love of its Creator. Oh, and make sure you leave your smart phone behind when you do this.
- Being and Doing.
While all these activities are useful, we all need some time where we stop doing stuff. Learn the value of beingrather than always being invested in doing. Spend some time simply being part of the beautiful natural world all around us, or better still, simply being in the presence of the God in whom “we live and move and have our being”. As the St John Saba said, “Silence the lips that the heart may speak. Silence the heart that the Spirit may speak”.
- The world is recovering.
Studies are showing that pollution has fallen dramatically across the world (maybe we should always live like this?) People have been forced to realise that we can all live quite happily with less. Governments have miraculously found huge amounts of money to make people’s lives better. Now isn’t that interesting…
So many trends across the world recently have tended to divide people from each other and turn them into enemies to some degree. Now, even the most selfish of people is making sacrifices to save others (and themselves of course). Disease does not recognise national borders, nor does it discriminate according to race. We are slowly realising that we are all in this together, that whatever hurts one of us hurts us all, and that we need each other.
- Bringing out the good in people.
Sure, there have been some awful cases of selfish behaviour, but there has also been some startlingly noble behaviour too. It is said that a crisis does not mould your character, it reveals it. But I think that our choices now do also mould that character which has been revealed. We are all works in progress. Now is the time to seek what is best and most noble in you and nurture and express it, and consciously make it your character.
- Truth matters again.
A kind of unreality was growing among us in recent years. Fewer and fewer people cared about reality, preferring instead to live in their own little bubble world of convenience. But now reality is biting, and biting hard. You cannot dismiss this pandemic as a conspiracy or a beat up. You cannot invent reasons why you don’t have to follow the rules that are keeping people safe. This is a crash course in the dire consequences of not seeking truth.
Difficult times often bring out the creativity and humour in people that was buried under humdrum responsibilities and busyness. Humour reminds us that God created us to be happy, and creates bonds between us as human beings. My final plea from the heart: please laugh at your dad’s dad jokes. It’s in the 10 Commandments. Look it up.
No doubt, there are many other blessings to be found, if we care to look for them. This horrible pandemic has the potential to churn out many blessings. And to a large extent, that is going to depend on how each one of us deals with it.