Where do we find abundant life in lockdown in the midst of a global pandemic? What does abundant life even look like in this situation? Is it possible?
On Wednesday evening my church had a reflective service (on Zoom, of course!) of words and music in which we thought about the story of the Wedding at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle: turning water into wine. As we meditated on the passage the questions above kept coming to me. The servants in the story fill the jars full to the brim with water. And Jesus turns this abundant supply of water into the best quality wine. God’s abundance and generosity is revealed to all.
But where can we find this abundant life in our current circumstances when so many of the things which usually give us life and joy seem to be forbidden and impossible? For so many people life feels as if it is on hold until the Covid-19 pandemic is over. And even then what will be left of the life we left behind in March 2020? As someone who has spent much of the last four decades debilitated by a severe neuroimmune illness, often stuck at home, unable to go out, unable to experience or enjoy many of the things most people would regard as essential for an abundant life, it is a question I have wrestled with for a long time.
‘I am come that you might have life, life in all its fullness.’ says Jesus in John chapter 10, verse10. Or in other translations ‘abundant life’. Where is this abundant life in the midst of restrictions and lockdowns? In the midst of grief, and loss, and pain, and disability? On a day spent in bed, unable to do the most basic of things?
I have more questions than answers. I do not claim that it is easy or that I have it in any way sorted. But I do believe that abundant life is here, tantalisingly within reach, whatever our circumstances; that it is possible whatever our current situation, and that all of us can at least glimpse it, if only fleetingly at times, and try to nurture it as best we can.
Of course, as a Christian, I believe that, fundamentally, truly abundant life is only found in a relationship with God, and that however apparently full and joyful and abundant in the world’s terms our lives may be – career, finances, beautiful home, romantic relationship, children, grandchildren, social life etc, if you don’t know God, you will never truly know abundant life.
But how do we live abundant lives in the midst of restrictions and pain? How do we make the ordinary extraordinary? How do we transform the everyday, often unseen and mundane tasks, into moments of light, and joy, and fulfilment of the kingdom of God?
I love the teachings of Brother Laurence who made this his life’s work: finding God, finding joy, finding life, in the most mundane and unseen of tasks; knowing that, even if nobody else saw him, God did, and that was all that mattered. Maybe abundant life comes from looking for God in the everyday things: being fully present in what we are doing, paying attention to the things around us (things which we so easily overlook and take for granted); seeking out beauty; practising kindness – to ourselves and to others; being gracious; being grateful for the small things; trying somehow to look beyond ourselves and show God’s love to others.
Maybe it is even about daring to be in touch with, and accept, all our feelings, including the difficult ones; and being honest when we are struggling; daring to ask for help. On some level abundant life must mean embracing all of life, including the grotty bits. Some days it is about just being kind to ourselves when life feels tough, and acknowledging that this is a mighty victory – a step on the road to experiencing a more abundant life.
Years ago I started a practice of beginning each day by asking how I can live it for God to the best of my ability, despite not finding myself in the circumstances I would like to be in. How can I make this day the best it can possibly be, however difficult my current situation? How can I live it fully, despite my physical restrictions?
It sounds so easy; it is so hard. I fail, and fail again. Those who know me well, (or those who have read my previous blogs!), will tell you that I lose the plot at times, and rant, and rage, and cry. But every moment is a new moment in which to refocus and start afresh. Nothing is wasted. Failing is part of learning to live better. We fall over, and we get up again. We learn, and we grow. Tomorrow is another day.
When life has shrunk, and we are hemmed in by restrictions, we are forced to recognise that much of what makes up what we usually regard as an ‘abundant life’ is merely a distraction. It may be good, but most of it is temporary and fragile, and ultimately it does not bring us the fulfilment we crave.
When many of the big things in life are gone, or at least on hold for a while, the small things take on more importance. When all around is grey, the colours left in life become more vibrant. The light shines more brightly in the darkness. One step at a time, we can learn to dance in the dark.