I slept poorly last night. I found myself thinking and praying for friends in Texas who were trying to sleep with no heat. Rolling blackouts have left millions without power during a time of record low temperatures. I was so grateful to be in my toasty bed and felt helpless to do anything for the suffering of those shivering in the cold a state away.
My mind then drifted to my job search. Having been laid off in January, I have spent several weeks combing websites and applying for a variety of positions. With my husband still employed, we thankfully have the security of one income. Though I need to find work, we are not in a place of panic. As my thoughts turned to those who have been out of work for nearly a year, since the pandemic began to shutter businesses, I started to imagine the hopelessness that so many must feel.
Earlier in the evening, in a conversation about how COVID-19 is impacting our world, my sister-in-law said something along the lines of “It’s a time of long-suffering.” I’ve heard the word long-suffering countless times, but I haven’t often had the experience. Miriam-Webster defines it as “patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship.” That theme is found throughout the Bible, and depending on the translation you use, it may be listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
Speaking of the Bible, this morning I woke up to find my husband’s Bible on the floor. One or both of our dogs had managed to knock it off the coffee table and had started ripping up the Book of Nehemiah. After my anger subsided, I considered the irony of the destruction of this particular book.
It prompted me to get out my own Bible and reread this familiar story. For those who don’t know the history, here’s a brief overview:
“During the time of Nehemiah, the Persian Empire had reached its greatest extent, engulfing nearly the entire Near East. In 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonians and absorbed the lands of Israel and Judah (known as Beyond the River) into his empire. The next year he allowed the people of Judah (now called Jews) to return home and rebuild the temple of the Lord. Several waves of returning Jews continued to resettle in Judea, and Nehemiah was granted permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s ruined walls around 445 B.C.” —Note on “The Persian Empire at the Time of Nehemiah” from The ESV Study Bible, copyright 2008 by Crossway.
These people undoubtedly suffered. For generations, they were kept from their homeland, endured forced servitude, and lived among those who disdained them. The first waves of them who returned to Jerusalem found it in ruins. Their “home” wasn’t a source of comfort, and it actually left them in a place of vulnerability.
I imagine that at some point in our future when we go back to “normal,” much of what we left behind will be in some degree of ruin. From crumbled infrastructure to familiar but uncomfortable interactions, we will need to relearn how to be in community again. There will be a necessary time of rebuilding and putting right what has gone wrong.
As we walk the path of long-suffering and begin the journey toward restoration, we must be aware that our outlook and attitudes play a critical role in whether we will experience success of failure. The pain and difficulty are very real, but there is a choice we must make. Will we allow suffering to make us bitter and define us, or will we use it as a platform from which to patiently endure? There is no question that this pandemic has brought much suffering and death into the world. But the casualties will be exponentially greater if we allow this time to draw out the darkness of our hearts.
I encourage you to read through the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, but then go on to read the exhortation in Chapter 6. This is the time, more than any other I have ever known, to show goodness and kindness to those around us. Let us not grow weary.