Cushioning the collisions of self-isolation
Progressive deprivation brings our values to light. Most of us Canadians don’t have to think much or often about what we most want because we’re able to enjoy at least some of almost everything in Abraham Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs.”
When our worlds shrink, however, and keep shrinking, and we don’t know how much more they are going to shrink, we start to think about what matters. The whole world was, at least in theory, open to us. But then only Canada, and then only crucial stores and public parks, and now just our homes—and then our own sick bodies? We have an opportunity for wisdom, to sort out our priorities and focus on what, and who, matters most.
Christians turn to Scripture for instruction and inspiration. Can the Bible help us negotiate these weird, demanding days?
One of the several oddities in the writings of the Apostle Paul is his emphasis on the social. Paul writes very little about the political or the financial or the cultural. Even though he is well-educated and well-traveled, he provides next to no instruction about public life to the churches he leads. Instead, even though he can come across as stern, even severe, in letter after letter he repeats (of all things) the fundamental importance of love.
Paul seems to lack even a single sentimental bone in his body. So when he advocates love to the early Christian communities, he certainly cannot mean “manufacture warm affection for each other.” He is a rabbi, trained in the Hebrew Bible’s commands to love God and love the neighbour. These are not commands to somehow summon up kindly feelings, but to seek the welfare of the other, to put first the other’s interests.
Over and over, Paul sounds this theme:
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10).
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14).
“For in Christ Jesus…the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
“Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:14).
“I therefore … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
And perhaps Paul’s most famous single chapter is his encomium on love in I Corinthians 13, which includes this eminently practical passage:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
These are words to help us every day, and especially in the tight confines of domestic life during the covid-19 episode we are all enduring.
Whatever else we are going to do today, we need to love each other. Every single person we encounter is under special stress: those we Skype, or meet at the stores, or bump into at home, and they each need our love: our concern for their welfare rather than just our own.
Our marriages must become stronger, kinder, deeper, more resilient, more accommodating—and we’ll have several dozen occasions today to either help or hurt them.
Our other close relationships—parents, kids, neighbours—have been made closer under the impress of self-isolation. That means more occasions, daily, for friction, and even collision. But it also provides us dozens of moments for forbearance and forgiveness, for a “Hey, that’s okay” and a smile to ease the situation.
So will we practice—and practice and practice—love?
Those who study such things tell us that once this wretched time is over we can expect an uptick in divorces—and pregnancies. Paul wrote excellent advice to communities under pressure as to how to withstand it and even become better through it.
Our relationships aren’t going to stay the same as a result of all this closeness. They’re going to get either better or worse.
If we get nothing else right during this crisis, let’s get this right.