During this time of the pandemic many people have experienced difficulty because they are isolated. And in the midst of being quarantined and locked-down, ironically, they experience too much “free” time on their hands. With this freedom comes a sense of separation from the norm, distance from friends and family, and ultimately feeling estranged from worship and God.
At times like these, recall the words of St. Paul who writes: “Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Think about that just for a second. Sin is rough and tough and dirty. I don’t like the word “sin.” My thumbnail definition for sin is — sin separates us. Sin separates us within, so that we are fragmented and dysfunctional. It isolates us from one another, so that our families, neighbors, communities get pulled apart and broken. Yes, sin ultimately leaves us estranged from God. Sin is nasty business. There is nothing good about it. A result of sin there is a loss of freedom. Stop right there. Put on the brakes. Listen again, to St. Paul.
“Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Commit that to memory. OK, put it on your refrigerator. Know this, one of the greatest freedoms we have is where we set our mind. Grace forms and shapes our mind. Grace is like a mental massage. Allow grace to take you not just to your “happy place” but let grace give you strength and courage to do those things that you normally cannot do on your own. Be open to grace. Grace is God’s gift to you, even in the midst of, or especially during, these times of hardship.
Some of you may recall the name of Terry Waite. He was something of a hero of mine from thirty years ago. Terry is a humanitarian who worked for the Archbishop of Canterbury in trying to release hostages from Beirut. Long story short, his negotiations backfired and he ended-up being the one kidnapped. I remember him writing of the ordeal and the feeling of separation around him which increased day by day, month by month and year after year.
One practice kept Terry going. Before going to sleep, Terry would lay his trousers under his blanket on the floor. He would sleep on the blanket and at the same time, press his pants for the next day. It was a British thing. It was also a way Terry could exercise his freedom and keep his dignity. For Terry, the practice became a gift of grace that gave him the courage and the strength to do what he had to do during the five-year ordeal of being held hostage.
Remember when Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh? The Lord answered saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That is amazing. Graces provides a powerful antidote to suffering and pain and also to sin. By entering at precisely the place where sin has wounded us, grace gives us courage and strength to do what we must do by forming and shaping our minds on the blessings that surround us. So, go ahead and press your pants!