In one way or another this journey with the coronavirus will be tough and demanding for everyone. The very thought of weeks, even months of isolation from others is daunting in itself. Many are concerned for others, whether for members of the family or friends, neighbours, colleagues. Some are panicking, buying more than they may need and some will be complaining, grumbling about not being able to do the things they normally like to do!
I’m reminded of Mr Grumble, one of the characters in Roger Hargreaves ‘Mr Men’ books for children. That story starts in this way: ‘Mr Grumble’s name suited him well! “Bah!” he would grumble, every morning, when the alarm clock rang. “It’s the start of yet another horrible day!” He even grumbled about the countryside and about Little Miss Fun’s guests singing and laughing.’
The Israelites, having been rescued from captivity in Egypt and going on their way to the Promised Land, grumbled when they were going through the Sinai Desert. Water was at a premium and they quarrelled with Moses (Exodus 17:2). Grumbles about the shortage of water were reasonable enough, but another version of that story tells us that they grumbled about other things also. ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.’ (Numbers 20:2-5) Figs, grain, in the desert?! In any case, they seem to have forgotten that they had been set free!
I guess there are many different grumbles all over the world, as well as here in the UK, about measures being taken to deal with the spread of coronavirus. Some will object to being told to stay in isolation. However, for those who depend on carers for washing, meals and other essentials – even a day without help could be catastrophic. It’s likely to be a difficult desert journey.
There are many other ‘desert’ journeys that we take, some of them because we choose to do so, though many of them are part of life’s journey. On one of his journeys, Jesus was tired and thirsty and so he rested by a well where he met a woman who had come with her bucket to draw water. She also was on a journey, with many failed marriages.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman beside the well at Sychar started with a request from Jesus. He asked if she would give him some water to drink. His request surprised her as Jews and Samaritans restricted their contacts with each other. A conversation developed in which Jesus sensed her own personal need and tells her what is on offer to bring hope into her life.
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
John 4:13,14 (NIV)
Jesus once said something else similar: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV) In other words, Jesus is saying that there are resources on offer to help us cope, even to thrive, in our times of need. How can we access those resources?
An old Sankey hymn gives us an important clue. It’s the opposite of grumbling which tends to be negative and self-centred. The old hymn I’m thinking of invites us to be positive, with the chorus repeatedly urging: ‘Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’. We have to focus on the positive even when life is terribly demanding, as the first verse puts it: ‘When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings. . .’
Being thankful, being appreciative of what is good in life, in our lives, can help us deal with our big problems. Some Chinese Christian nurses reminded Rosemary and me of this when we were in our forties and she needed a major operation to remove a tumour from her spine. Those nurses introduced us to a book, ‘Praise Works’, by Merlin Carothers. He urged his readers to praise God in everything and indeed, because of everything. He had learned this for himself, and wrote about it in what became a widely read book, ‘Prison to Praise’, still available for us to read.
Praising God in everything! That’s the opposite of grumbling! Psalm 95 is an example of praising God in everything and that Hebrew poem specifically contrasts such a positive attitude with the negative grumbling of the Israelites when water was scarce on their desert journey. The psalm begins, ‘Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation’ (Psalm 95 v 1). They were not to be like their forefathers:
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.
Psalm 95:7-9 (NIV)
Coronavirus is shaking us up in a big way. We don’t yet know how difficult this journey will be. But here are clues for us in each time of testing: Let’s resist the urge to blame and grumble. Let’s remember all the blessings, all the plusses in our lives! Let’s be more appreciative of other people! Doing that, we become open to fresh resources to stir and strengthen the spirit, more open to God, so that we receive fresh resources to help us on our coronavirus desert journey and, at the same time, give hope and help to others on this journey.