A lot of us are struggling right now with the call to social distancing. It feels a little too much like solitary confinement, which, let’s be real, is a form of punishment in the penal system. Even introverts are discovering how much they might actually like people while extroverts are just feeling punished.
I am struck this morning by how often in the Bible, God has used isolation to accomplish significant areas of growth in our lives; growth we may not have welcomed or thought we needed, but growth nonetheless.
Isolation can prepare us for whatever comes next.
Jesus himself spent 40 days in the wilderness. Many commemorate this time as Lent which coincidentally overlaps right now with this worldwide pandemic and the call to isolation. At this moment, isolating for 40 days sounds unbearable – many of us struggle with 40 hours alone, or even 40 minutes in prayer. It’s rough.
But let’s be real. Jesus’s days in the wilderness were no picnic, they were rife with the temptation to feed his own cravings and take short cuts.
Satan tempted Jesus with fresh bread. You can satisfy your own cravings right now. And yet Jesus held firm. He knew there was more at stake than his hunger for physical sustenance. We, on the other hand, fall into panic when the milk gets out of date even if we weren’t craving milk.
Satan tempted Jesus to put God to the test; throw himself off the temple and let angels rescue him to prove who he was. For me, that is like doing dumb stuff and counting on God to bail me out. I know it is reckless, but I am secure in God, so I’m gonna throw caution to the wind.
Finally, Satan tempts Jesus with a short cut. If Jesus worships Satan, he will give him all the kingdoms of the world. Commentators have multiple opinions on what this last temptation implies. But if this in anyway offered a short cut to redeeming creation to himself; bringing creation back to God and ridding them of the enemy, without the trials of the next three years of his ministry, it would be tempting to take it.
How often do we want a short cut to God’s best in our lives?
We want a short cut out of pain.
We want a short cut to our goals.
We want a short cut to healthy relationships.
But in many cases, we all need to settle in for the long haul. God does great things when we are given a time out and it isn’t always punishment.
Noah got a long timeout on a boat. Think you are going crazy penned up with your family? Imagine the time he spent on a floating zoo with inlaws.
Moses spent tons of time on a mountain with God. But at eighty plus years old, he had to climb up there multiple times. It was his own personal cardio system. Yes, maybe he was escaping the crazies below, but still.
Many people in scripture received their personal timeout against their will. It’s called prison. Joseph, Jeremiah, Peter, John the Baptist, the apostle Paul. Solitary confinement allows you to think deep thoughts. We can spend it well and contemplate what God is preparing us for. Or we can lose our minds.
There doesn’t appear to be a short cut out of this situation we find ourselves in. We can debate six ways from Sunday, how we got here or what could have been done better, but here we are.
I may not like where I am or how I got here, but I am desperate to not miss a single lesson that God has for me.
I want to develop:
Patience. My timetable is clearly not the most important thing.
Compassion. For those who are suffering physically, economically, psychologically.
Kindness: Toward anyone who processes this time differently than me.
Peace: If I have it, I can share it. Jesus gave peace – we can give peace.
Self-control: I can back away from those cookies. Back away slowly.
Faithfulness: I’ve never had more time to devote to Jesus. Use it.
Joy: This comes in the morning. Bring it – keep it. All day long.
We can do this, friends.
There is no short cut.
We can emerge better than we were.