Augustus Hopkins Strong, president and professor of theology at the Rochester Theological Seminary from 1872 until 1912, liked to tell the story of a young minister who once complained that all his projects, no matter how well-intentioned, always left him feeling moody and dissatisfied. Irritated and discouraged, he feared his studies had come to nothing and desired to know what he should do.
This man’s problem, Strong explained, was in looking for a dramatic change of external circumstances. He forgot God’s greatest gift is the knowledge that one is working with and for Christ: “While he has been looking outside for this thing or that, for this communication or that, he has been ignoring the fact that the one unspeakable gift of God is Christ himself.”
In telling this story, Strong went on to confess that before he learned this lesson for himself, he had typically worked in a “plodding, burdened, fearing, [and] distressful” way. “I had none of the joy that normally belongs to the Christian life,” he admitted.
It was not until he pondered the Scriptural words “I am the vine; ye are the branches” (John 15:5) when Strong realized the early disciples were full of hope and power just because they knew Christ was in them. They lived by faith in the Son of God, regardless of their immediate situations. With that realization, Strong learned the “secret of Christianity and it wrought a great transformation in my experience.”
Those of us self-quarantining in the common effort to flatten the coronavirus curve are in a uniquely favorable position to act on Strong’s wisdom. Not currently slaves to the tighter schedules and heightened social expectations of living in the larger world, we can more easily turn inward and ask for Christ’s guidance when especially stressed. Even with the demands of a large household, the customs required to negotiate conventional reality can be more comfortably suspended, freeing the soul to less self-consciously reach beyond itself.
There is no need for self-quarantine to turn us into chained beasts which howl with rage and bite at our tethers or caged birds that flies about our little prisons looking for the first chance to escape. Our current restriction can, in fact, prompt the most profound liberation.