“The summer is getting on down below,” thought Bilbo, “and haymaking is going on and picnics. They will be harvesting and blackberrying, before we even begin to go down the other side at this rate.” And the others were thinking equally gloomy thoughts. —The Hobbit
As we slog through what should be the merry month of May, I find myself identifying more and more with Bilbo Baggins, splashing along in the mud behind his similarly bedraggled companions, wistfully wishing for his familiar and comfortable hobbit home. Not for the last time!
I duly admit that, as we pass another month in this quarantine that shows only tentative signs of lifting, our bonhomie is wearing thin. Our kids miss their friends. I miss our social calendar. We all miss our church. We’re doing the best we can with online connections, but it’s just not the same.
It’s very tempting to think of all the fun things we could be doing right now and to resent the loss of all our plans and schemes. In fact, I really struggle with rallying the troops some days because, at times, my own spirits flag.
So I started reading through Philippians, thinking I could do with a good dose of “And again I say, rejoice.” I was also on the lookout for some bracing lecture material—“Do all things without murmurings and disputings” is a classic standby whenever complaints arise, and boy, have the complaints been piling up lately.
I read about Epaphroditus, who was “sick nigh unto death,” and thought, “Ha, ha, maybe he had the coronavirus.” This is what we say about everything nowadays. “The sink is backing up. Maybe it has the coronavirus.” (I do realize that for many, the virus is no laughing matter, but sometimes dark humor can help to cope with stress and worry.) Then I started over, reading everything through the lens of the coronavirus, and it was uncanny just how apropos the familiar admonitions are.
So maybe the epistle of Philippians wasn’t written in a time of pandemic. Paul was in prison, or maybe just under house arrest. Still, there’s so much that is applicable to our present circumstances:
- “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will . . . the one . . . not sincerely . . . the other of love. . . . What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached” (Phil. 1:15-18). Sometimes it doesn’t matter whose intentions are pure, and who’s just faking it: the important thing is that the job gets done. Chores—the even distribution, the thoroughness and completion, the relative difficulty thereof—are really under the microscope right now. I have to remind the kids that it doesn’t matter whether so-and-so finished the job to avoid punishment or from a sense of smugness or out of loving service. Obviously I’d prefer a cheerful worker, but a worker is better than a shirker any day.
- “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). Oh, is this ever timely! While we’re not hurting financially (yet), many in our country are, and being in a position to help those in the community who are less fortunate is a tremendous blessing.
- “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). Another classic, oft quoted, also incredibly timely. I am very anxious these days. I worry about interest rates, I worry about inflation, I worry about election integrity, I worry about shortages, and I worry about honeybees dying from murder hornets. Will worrying solve any of these problems? No. Which leads directly to the next point . . .
- “Whatsoever things are true . . . honest . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of good report . . . if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). There’s a lot of sensationalism in the stories and hyperbole in the headlines. I do try to keep abreast of current events, but I’m finding it more and more rewarding to focus on books over online articles right now. Books are timeless, grounding, and contain a lot more truth.
- “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). We live in a state with a corrupt and calculating governor who is exploiting this crisis to further his political agenda. But I need to be content. So I content myself with re-reading timeless classics about unexpected hobbits helping to overthrow evil tyrannical would-be overlords.
Which brings us back to the adventures of Bilbo, missing his cozy hobbit-hole and second breakfasts on the lawn. Poor Bilbo—who finds himself in the middle of strange and confusing circumstances into which he tumbled headlong without even bringing his pocket-handkerchief—is such a very sympathetic character for our times. Come to think of it, we don’t have any pocket-handkerchiefs either, but at least we have toilet paper!
Photo credit: iStock, following images courtesy of author.