What matters most in times of quarantine and crisis? I don’t know about you, but these days have caused this writer to pause and reflect on the things that are indeed most important.
It is so very easy for us to lose our perspective on life as we go through the frantic pace of life in the 21st century, isn’t it?
One of the hats I wear is to serve as a part-time chaplain in a local senior living community. This assisted living facility has been hit hard by the current pandemic. No one at the facility has contracted coronavirus (yet!), but in an effort to present that from happening, the facility has been locked down for over six weeks. That means no one can enter or exit the facility.
Only staff are free to come and go. And the hundred or so residents are, in the words of one of them, “going stir crazy.” But just the other day, I was visiting with one of the residents in her room and she was celebrating with me the joy she felt at being permitted to daily spend more time looking out her window.
In the “normal times” before this pandemic, she would have been so active in reaching out to her neighbors that she had forgotten to take the time to simply look out her window. But now she was marveling at the “pandemic vista” she was privileged to enjoy.
Her view includes a pond teeming with wildlife, including ducklings learning to swim and survive at the promptings of their mother. Beyond that pond in the foreground is a pasture in the background.
This woman gleefully proclaimed to me how she had enjoyed observing the local farmer rotating his cattle through that pasture from one day to the next, and how the cows would take shelter from the rain under the huge live oak tree in the middle of the field.
Simple things, yes, but this woman had re-learned to rejoice in them and to praise God for them in the midst of this world-wide crisis and all that meant for her.
Jim Eliot, the martyred missionary who, in his journal, once wrote a now-famous quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” also wrote about the simple joy of knowing and seeing God at work. He said:
“I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and to give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask?
“Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth. I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap, in mercy, He shall give me a host of children that I may lead through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose fingers’ ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, smell His garments, and smile into my Lover’s eyes, ah, then, not stars, nor children, shall matter—only Himself.”
Did you catch those three words: “But if not”? Eliot is making the statement that nothing matters more than knowing and enjoying the Lord. Those three words express a complete devotion to the Lord no matter what else may come into one’s life.
Those three words also formed the backdrop for one of the most amazing evacuations in history.
In the spring of 1940, in the midst of World War II, the German army was plowing through France despite the help from more than 300,000 British troops. (U.S. troops were not involved in this battle.) Finally, the Germans surrounded and trapped most of the Allied forces at Dunkirk, a town in northern France. It appeared that the Allied army would face annihilation or surrender.
Eventually, through a miraculous outpouring of courage, the British managed to organize an amazing flotilla of hundreds of little ships that evacuated most of the Allied forces. As these small boats returned to England, the sight of the white cliffs of Dover became for ship and soldier alike a sign of hope and renewed determination.
But before the evacuation, at one point when everything looked utterly hopeless, allegedly a British officer sent the following message, condensed into those three powerful words: “But if not ….” At the time it was a strong message of courage and of ultimate hope in the midst of trouble.
The message conveyed the truth that the British would stand defiantly against the Nazis and that God would ultimately provide a way through the dark night.
What is the background to the cryptic three-word message? “But if not” came straight from the Bible. As three young men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) faced the fiery furnace in Daniel chapter 3, they refused to go down in defeat. Instead, they declared their trust in God even if their mission failed.
According to Daniel 3:17-18 they said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
But if not … words from God that still speak to our hearts today.
Whether we are facing the simple pleasure of knowing Jesus each morning, observing His wonderful creation and basking in the sunshine of his love, or dealing with a dark and hopeless world where there seems to be no end to the pandemics of life, those words are indeed words of hope and courage to live by – no matter what!
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at email@example.com.