You’ve heard the saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” For me, every cloud has a spiritual lining.
I used to think the “silver lining” saying was based on the metaphor of a coat or jacket that had an inner lining. If it was a wool jacket, for example, the lining would keep it from irritating your skin. My interpretation didn’t make much sense, but I got the idea there can be some good in the midst of not-so-good. But now I believe this saying is based on the image of the sun behind the dark cloud. It shines in such a way that the cloud is outlined (thus lining) the cloud.
Shift this image to one of a spiritual lining: We can look for a spiritual outline framing every aspect and circumstance. We need eyes to see and ears to hear.
Novel COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease) has disrupted life globally unlike any other catastrophe. Hurricanes, tsunamis, even wars are all devastating – but are limited to a geographic area, even if that area is huge. This is global, leaving no area and no person unaffected. We are being asked to self-quarantine, practice social distancing, and cancel all regular activities that involve gathering. Though we are not under Marshall Law, it’s like everyone is on house arrest.
So where is the spiritual lining? Where is the spiritual outline that gives us a frame of reference for these trying times?
It’s interesting that all this is happening during Lent, the season of the Christian year leading up to our Easter celebration. Lent (whose name comes from the lengthening of days in spring) is a time when we often give up certain things in symbolic fasting both to identify with Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-14) and to express our repentance and spiritual readiness to follow the Lord.
We are all giving up a lot these days. I’m suggesting the spiritual lining is to frame our new circumstances in light of spiritual practices or disciplines. Let me highlight four:
The overarching discipline these days is fasting. Fasting is abstaining from things that are good in order to give greater attention to spiritual concerns. It is one of the most frequently illustrated spiritual exercises in Scripture, occurring in a great variety of situations. Fasting feeds the soul. Some have said fasting is praying with the body.
We are now being “forced” to fast from nearly all our normal away-from-home activities. This loss of control is one of the most debilitating experiences for the soul. When we lose control over how we work, what we do, over our use of time and money, we lose our sense of self-affirmation and confidence. The discipline of fasting is about control, or more properly, about what controls us. In spiritual formation, fasting has an immediate impact on a person, revealing what controls them.
Following his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1-14). He fasted for forty days and nights. He identified with Israel hungering in the wilderness, both spiritually and physically. But when temptation came, another issue came to the fore: what would control Jesus and his mission? He was tempted to put other things before God’s will, including his own comfort and desires. Jesus won the battle through the power of the Spirit and the Word of God.
This “stay at home” crisis brings the opportunity for clarity, providing the opportunity to reevaluate what controls us. Approach this as a spiritual exercise so that your attitude shifts from resentment and fear to a framework for gratitude and understanding. Journaling is very helpful in this process. Check my index of topics for previous blogs on journaling.
I’ll be briefer on the other three disciplines.
Working from home and cancelling group activities puts many in a place of solitude. I realize parents with children at home may feel there is anything but solitude!! Hang in there! But do find some time to be alone.
Solitude does not come naturally to us, with up to an estimated 70% of people being extroverts.
Solitude helps free us from the magnetic attractions of the world: attractions of materialism, of popular acclaim, of busyness and often-senseless activity. It puts us in a place where we can see more clearly what the world has been doing to us.
Sometimes it’s only by getting away from people that we can truly give ourselves to them. Those who are always available, soon have nothing to give. Time away in solitude can prepare us to serve God and others in more effective ways.
The change of pace will likely provide some additional time for rest. This can relate to the discipline of Sabbath. Think of Sabbath in terms of pacing your Work-Life balance to include one full day of rest weekly and parts of each day with intentional refreshment.
I have written several blogs on Sabbath and rest (check my index of topics), so I will just add the thought that we can use this time to learn to “work smarter,” developing a more sustainable, gracious, humane pace for our lives.
For many, the most stressful aspect of this crisis, beyond health, is economic. We are realizing how vulnerable we are. In no way will I minimize the great challenge we have to get through this. We are facing stress now and the stress of a long recovery.
The spiritual lining, however, is in clarifying our priorities and values so we live differently on the other side of this crisis.
The discipline of simplicity speaks to the stewardship of resources. Simplicity re-frames the discipline of poverty practiced by many monastic orders. Jesus never taught that all his followers were called to poverty. (Where would we get the resources to provide creative, expansive ministry if every Christian was impoverished?) We are called, however, to provide for ourselves and our families (1 Timothy 5:8) in ways that allow us to also “be rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:17). A time like this strips away our wants from our needs. We focus on essentials and generosity for others in need.
This is a season of dark clouds, indeed. May the Lord give us hearts and minds to see the spiritual lining.