Article of the week: Lessons learnt
31 October 2020
Major Peter Mylechreest encourages us to hold on to what we have found to be true
HAVE the weeks of strict lockdown and the restrictions imposed since been a help to you or a trial? This has been an unusual year, and for many people a time of stress and tribulation. How we approach these difficulties is a personal response.
James, during a time of great uncertainty, wrote: ‘When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character’ (James 1:2–4 JB Phillips). Has our patience had the opportunity to grow? Are we stronger in character?
A wise man once said that there is no point in suffering if we don’t learn from it. He was talking in the context of being hurt in a relationship, but the same maxim could be applied to many other scenarios.
Paul the apostle went through horrendous sufferings. He lists some of them in 2 Corinthians 11: he was in prison, severely flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked three times, received forty lashes five times, in danger wherever he went, sometimes without food, and so on. Yet he wrote to the Philippians: ‘I have learnt to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous… I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me’ (4:12 and 13 JBP). Paul leant heavily on Christ’s support, so that at any time and in any way he learnt to be content. Has what we have learnt changed our perception and ushered in a new way of doing things? For many people, the lockdown experience has been a form of suffering and a steep learning curve as they have endeavoured to deal with a whole range of situations not previously considered likely.
Paul learnt that, strangely, suffering helped him to be a better follower of Jesus. He writes: ‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady’ (Romans 5:3 and 4 The Living Bible).
Here are some lessons people have told me they’ve learnt during the trauma of recent months:
‘I suddenly realised that none of us is immortal and I’ve stopped to think through what my life is all about.’
‘I have rediscovered how important my family is to me.’
‘I am going to make sure that I focus on living rather than just existing to work and eat and sleep.’
‘Being locked in with my small children 24/7 has been exhausting, and I now have much greater sympathy for my stay-at-home wife.’
‘It has confirmed for me that my faith is an integral part of my being.’
‘Even when we return to normal I am going to pursue my new-found hobby.’
‘I have seen how out of touch I was with my teenage son. I’m now trying to build bridges.’
‘Self-isolation hasn’t been the hardship I imagined it would be. I had in my mind that it would be like solitary confinement, hemmed in, completely cut off – but my mobile has been a lifeline.’
‘If I had realised that lockdown was going to be so long I would have rearranged my priorities much earlier.’
On reflection, many may realise that such things have always been true and that recent events have brought them into focus.
Paul, who benefited so much from all he had learnt, passed on wise advice to Timothy, encouraging him to hold on to all those things he found to be true: ‘Continue in what you have learnt and what you have become convinced of’ (2 Timothy 3:14 Tree Of Life Version).
As the country, and indeed the world, eventually and gradually moves back to more normal times, may the good intentions expressed over the past few months be realised in our living. May the positive things we have learnt be consolidated, and may the God who specialises in those intangible aspects of love, beauty and truth be with us all.
MAJOR MYLECHREEST IS THQ CHAPLAIN