‘Adopt a Melbournian’ was one of the memes going around recently. On one hand I was surprised, but on the other hand, it’s understandable. Although we still like to hold on to the title of the ‘world’s-most-liveable-city’, the level of restrictions have been amongst the toughest and longest in the world. Of course, we are painfully aware that many other cities in the world are dealing with more dire COVID-related circumstances. Nevertheless, the struggle’s been real.
Is it possible, however, that God intends more for Melbourne than just making us a cautionary tale?
Is it possible, however, that God intends more for Melbourne than just making us a cautionary tale? As far as the faithful are concerned, I believe the answer is yes.
As James exhorts us:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)
Paul writes similarly in Romans 5:3-5, teaching us that:
… suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Scripture also gives us lived examples of the same ilk. Think of the impoverished Macedonian Church inspiring the wealthy Corinthians to be more generous. Think of Paul—possibly even more productive while under house-arrest. Let’s not forget how God used Joseph after his brothers sold him into slavery. The biblical precedent is this: God uses trials to produce in us endurance, maturity, and a hope that does not disappoint. God uses times like this for his glory.
I used to think the above sounded too optimistic, but our recent personal experience has taught us otherwise.
Suffering Produced Hope
My family and I had just been through what I’ve come to refer to as the ‘Tough Twenty-Two’, or T22 for short: twenty-two months of cancers (plural), car accidents (plural), and other such minor catastrophes, including suspicion, neglect, and no shortage of paper-cuts along the way. Several months after T22, just as we were finding our feet again, the first set of serious restrictions hit, and they hit us hard.
We had always known intellectually that our hope was built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness—at least in theory. Now, we know this experientially.
Yet what we’d just been through gave us perspective—hope too—as we went into the uncertainty and gloom of indefinite lockdown.
We had always known intellectually that our hope was built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness—at least in theory. Now, we know this experientially. And I know that my hope isn’t in being able to gather together again, or restrictions easing, the economy recovering, nor even in a vaccine. My hope isn’t in political powers, family, holidays, a balanced lifestyle, job satisfaction, personal fulfilment. Even after this pandemic is finally over, these things will disappoint us, if nothing else but for the fact that they can be taken away. I don’t hope for any of those things, though it would be nice if some of them happened. Before, my hope was in Christ; through suffering, my hope is now in Christ alone.
Tests Produced Maturity
In education, tests are meant to be a reflection of what we’ve learned, but also an indicator of where we are left wanting.
That has been true for many of us in Melbourne. If we have found our loss of freedom unbearable, perhaps it means we have been idolising our freedom of choice? If we miss being productive, perhaps it shows that we have made an idol of our own sense of significance?
For me, as we struggled through this trial, in the midst of enduring darkness, I found small things shifting. I stopped dwelling on all the things I could no longer do, and started thinking on the things that were good, right, pure, and praiseworthy. I stopped mourning all things lost, and started seeing the opportunities present. I stopped posting on Facebook and Instagram. I started praying and fasting regularly. The trial revealed the areas in which I needed to grow—and those areas weren’t what I had expected. I needed to grow in the very basic rhythms of walking closely with Jesus. There was much room to mature, and it took a test like COVID to tell me.
Finding Pure Joy
Post T22, pre-COVID, I would’ve said we’d learned; learned how much we rely on God; learned how to love through sickness and health; learned how to be thankful for each day. We were a happier and newly healthy family, eating well, exercising even better; we were loving God and serving in whatever way we could manage. If you’d have said to me there was even more in store for us, I would’ve doubted you’d understood what we’d been through to get there. That was then.
While there has been little to cling to except the maturing rhythms of a Christ-centred life—what I’ve found is that, actually, we have been lacking … nothing.
Right now—while many of life’s liberties are still just out of reach, and there has been little to cling to except the maturing rhythms of a Christ-centred life—what I’ve found is that, actually, we have been lacking … nothing.
How? The time in isolation spent doing just the basics has produced an intense closeness with God that I have not felt in twenty odd years of following him. It’s not that I didn’t have the closeness of his presence then—and it’s only because of the work of Jesus that we are able to draw near to God—but I rely on the closeness of His presence even more now. The realness of this reliance on him is so intensely good that I yearn for it more and more, and feel it keenly if it is absent. It’s not an empty solace that I’ve found, but a sense of the fullness of his presence—uncluttered and undistracted devotion.
It’s only now, after life has been stripped back, that I’m even more convinced that nothing can separate me from him. Not curfew, nor being unable to sit in a café; not COVID, nor cancer. There is no policy or politician or restriction or loss or anything that this world can throw at us that can separate us from God’s love. In this assurance, through the fires of trial, my source of happiness has been refined. I’ve found pure joy.
Right now I want to remember this joy, this hope. I want to remember what life was like when we had to slow down and we couldn’t grab everything the world had to offer, because it couldn’t offer much. I want to remember how shallow everything else now feels compared to the intense closeness of God’s presence so that I don’t jump back to hoping in things which have been proven to disappoint me. Right now, I think the only thing that could be worse than a third wave is to carry on as if COVID never happened. Right now, I want to remember my time in Melbourne’s lockdown—for the glory of God.