Well, here we are, still: lockdown number two for the UK, and the journey feels like it's dragging on... and on... and on. Normality is a distant dot in our rear view mirrors, while ahead of us is a dull and jumbled landscape of shifting restrictions, cancelled plans and unsatisfying virtual connections. And no, we are almost certainly not nearly there yet.
So, what's keeping you going? (Apart from chocolate cake, of course.)
I've recently found encouragement from reading the book of 2 Corinthians - a letter by Paul to the church at Corinth when he was seriously struggling. He'd had some kind of disagreement with them, and spends part of the letter apologising, part justifying himself, quite a lot telling them about all the other awful things that have been happening to him, and he still manages to fit in some phrases of quite profound hope. This one's been buzzing around in my brain:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... We do not lose heart.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16
Paul seems to have had at least three things that kept him from losing heart. Thinking about my efforts to keep going through lockdown, I realised that the same things are helping me, too.
Purpose is hard to find when your workplace closes, your voluntary activities all stop, and you can't even be there for friends and family who are ill or grieving. I admit to being relatively fortunate in that respect; even though I was furloughed for the first lockdown, I still had to homeschool the kids and keep the house running, and was able to keep connected with things online. My life didn't suddenly collapse into a void.
Even so, I found myself using a to-do list in a new way. Usually it's a moving target, something I'm constantly running to keep up with. In lockdown it became the equivalent of a jog round the block; easily achievable, but at least if I'd completed my list each day than I knew I'd done something useful.
Some people find purpose by bringing food to their neighbours, by making masks for NHS staff, or by tending their garden. Paul's purpose, always, was to tell people about Jesus and to care for the churches that were created, and the strength of that purpose kept him going through some truly horrendous circumstances.
What is your purpose? Have you had to find new purposes during lockdown?
Have you noticed that everyone stops for a chat these days? Some formerly taciturn cafe customers have become quite conversational, and all the dog walkers will say hello. Everyone's become slightly starved of human interaction.
I've certainly appreciated the people I have around me. Family, neighbours, my book club and church homegroup on Zoom, the friends that keep in touch on Messenger or WhatsApp. Every little scrap of conversation becomes a precious thing, and a laugh with a friend will light up a day. And you're talking to an introvert here - someone who can happily spend hours in her own company!
I'm pretty sure Paul was an extrovert. If he wasn't visiting churches he was writing to them, and if he wasn't writing he was getting reports from them through his network of contacts. He could be lifted up by receiving good news, or thrown into despair by the lack of it. Paul spends half of 2 Corinthians telling the church about all his pain and suffering, and the other half telling them that he doesn't mind any of it as long as they are doing well. The people in his life were of immense importance to him.
Who has been important to you during lockdown? Have you been able to build new relationships or strengthen old ones?
One of the most famous verses from 2 Corinthians comes just before the passage I quoted.
But we have this treasure [the good news about Jesus] in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7
The more overwhelmed Paul got, the more he realised that he couldn't do all this in his own strength, but had to rely on something greater than himself. He was only a "clay jar" - plainly made and easily breakable - but he was convinced that God's power was working through him.
Lockdown may have brought us to the end of our own resources, and made us look for something more. Suddenly we are reaching out for a power greater than ourselves, a force that is greater than the events which are way outside of our control.
Prayer is an age-old response to this need. It's something that I've found myself doing more of, recently. The Lectio 365 app has been helpful for me - a 10 minute daily meditation which makes me stop, slow down, and focus on God. I've also been part of an online book club which has been studying How to Pray by Pete Greig, with its emphasis on prayer as a relationship with God, and its unflinching look at the disappointment of unanswered prayer.
Where do you look for power? What practises help you to face your own weakness and find a strength that is greater than yourself?
I hope you are managing to find enough purpose, people and power to keep you going on this long journey. And remember, if all else fails, there's always chocolate cake! (Call me; I'll make you one.)