Is this a time to be Les Miserables?

I’ve just heard a pastor give a sociological appraisal of what he’s seeing during COVID-19. “Two groups have emerged”, he said, “the ‘radically isolated’ and the ‘smothered’.” Essentially, he’s saying that people who live on their own are struggling because they have no one to socialize with and people with families (particularly with younger children) are smothered because they have too many people in a small space. While this is almost definitely accurate, I’ve been convicted that this is a particular reading of the situation. The alternative reading is one in which the two emerging groups are those with imposed solitude and those with imposed community.

I was talking with a friend who said that for the first time in years his family are having dinner at the table together. I also spoke with a single friend of ours, who is isolating by herself, who told me she is rediscovering the discipline of prayer. Recognizing the obvious shadow side of this season, should we not also celebrate the in-breaking of light? Rediscovered monastic disciplines and a restored gratitude of family are, I’m sure, a small selection of the gifts on offer to us. Could it be that these are impositions of that which we have neglected for comfort’s sake? Could it be that our Father in Heaven is using them for our holiness?

I’m reminded of some wise words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

The answer, I think, is not to simply ‘look on the positive side’, or indeed to make better use of your time by orchestrating your family of six into rewriting the words of “One Day More” like the Marsh family (although I’m sure some positivity and ingenuity would be helpful). I think it’s a realization that seasons of trial, for the Christian, are always seasons of training, whether it be learning to be alone or learning to bear with one another.