For many, self-isolation is a curse. To be cooped up in the house can mean detachment from much that gives life dignity, worth and enjoyment. But is it all bad? Arguably, despite the undeniable disadvantages of lockdown, self-isolation is exactly what we need. It is a blessing in disguise because it has given us an abundance of time. Time for ourselves; time for our families; time for God.

Gress Bridge

In his excellent book The Soap Man, Roger Hutchinson delineates the strained relationship between the people of Lewis and Lord Leverhulme, the island’s owner from 1918 until his death in 1925. Hutchinson argues that one of the turning points in this relationship took place on Wednesday 12th March 1919 at a meeting at Gress Bridge, Back. Leverhulme bluntly told over a thousand land-hungry crofters that he didn’t intend to give them the land that they so felt they needed. To his credit, he firmly believed that the industrialisation of Lewis with its associated benefits – a fixed wage, a comfortable home, and a small garden – was what its people really needed.

Having said his bit, a young returned serviceman from Vatisker called John Macleod said his own bit:

You have spoken of steady work and steady pay in tones of veneration – and I have no doubt that in your view, and in the view of those unfortunate people who are compelled to live their lives in smoky towns, steady work and steady pay are very desirable things. But in Lewis we have never been accustomed to either – and, strange though it must be to your lordship, we do not greatly desire them. We attend to our crofts in seed-time and harvest, and we follow the fishing in its season – and when neither requires our attention we are free to rest and contemplate.

You have referred to our houses as hovels [shacks] – but they are our homes, and I will venture to say, my lord, that, poor though these homes may be, you will find more real human happiness in them than you will in your castles throughout the land.

Lord Leverhulme – you have bought this island. But you have not bought us, and we refuse to be bond-slaves of any man. We want to live our own lives in our own way, poor in material things it may be, but at least it will be clear of the fear of the factory bell; it will be free and independent.

An impartial observer said that ‘the loudest and longest cheers of that day greeted John Macleod’s speech.’ Although Macleod had won the day, however, sadly his eloquence failed to persuade Lord Leverhulme.

Learning from the Past

To learn from the past isn’t to nostalgically long for it. As happy as the blackhouses of the district of Back sounded, we would probably be quite uncomfortable in them. Most of our houses offer privacy, warmth, powerful showers and WiFi – we would be loath to part with such comforts. For that generation, eternity was near – advances in medical science have now neutralised many of the diseases which plagued early 20th century Lewis. For them, hunger was common – for us, it is not.

But it wasn’t all bad back then. For one thing, if John Macleod had been told to self-isolate, it wouldn’t have changed his life as radically as it’s changed ours. He would, undoubtedly, lament some of the social restrictions, but he could continue to work on the field and fish from his boat.

What is most pertinent to our present discussion, however, is the immense worth which John Macleod placed on his freedom and time ‘to rest and contemplate.’

Losing our Focus

But what’s the point in time if you can’t do anything with it? Undoubtedly, many in society have, through self-isolation, lost their focus. The activities which have, hitherto, given life meaning and excitement have been cordoned off. Those who live for the weekend have seen restaurants, pubs and clubs close. Those who religiously attend the gym, or a weekly game of football or squash, are sitting at home in their shorts. The great sporting events of the year (not to mention music and theatre) have been cancelled. Some have taken to watching re-runs but it’s not the same. Schools are closed to most, kids clubs are cancelled, Church services are suspended, and supermarkets are hushed. Furlough from work, for many, is frustrating.

It is difficult to overestimate how vital social activity is to the mental health and well-being of a great proportion of our population. People are literally wondering how they are going to cope without the focus. It is not without reason that the BBC are daily posting advice about stress, anxiety and depression.

Re-Focusing

But what if this is a chance to re-focus? The opportunity for rest and contemplation that John Macleod so valued has now been thrust in front of most of us. It is incumbent upon us to use that time wisely and profitably by re-assessing what in life is important and essential. Many of the things which we have temporarily lost will, on assessment, still be important to us after the lockdown. Many of them, however, will fall far down the priority list. As they fall down, it is hoped that other priorities, formerly sidelined, will rise up.

Family

This is an opportunity to prioritise the family and realise its blessing. Recent years have seen the family unit, which is the basic building block of a healthy society, attacked and degraded. Bit by bit, the family is being pulled apart. Now, families have been forced together. One of the top divorce lawyers in the UK has said that she expects business to boom as a result of the Coronavirus. How much happier the outcome if couples used this time to work through their marriage problems and renew their commitment to one another.

Self-isolation also provides a great opportunity for parent-child relationships. When the schools closed, one mother went public to say that, as a teacher, she got her dignity from her work; now, however, she was forced to stay at home and look after her children. What a blessing it would be for both parents and children – and society as a whole – if we realised how dignified a thing it is to bring up children. Arguably, there is no more important and influential role in all of society. This is a time for parents to prioritise their children by spending time teaching them, playing with them, eating with them and resting with them. This lockdown could provide our children with some of the happiest memories of their childhood.

‘What of the soul?’

When William Wilberforce was at the height of his campaign for the abolition of slavery, a Christian woman said to him, ‘Mr Wilberforce, what of the soul?’ Wilberforce, who was a dedicated Christian, turned to her and said, ‘Woman, I had almost forgotten that I had a soul.’ Much of our population has been so busy that they can say the same. We’ve been so distracted that we’ve neglected our souls, overlooked eternity and spurned Christ and His gospel.

Paul called the Church in Ephesus to ‘redeem the time, because the days are evil.’ (Ephesians 5:16) In these evil days when we’re faced with fear, uncertainty, loss and mortality in a way that is new to most of us, how better to use our time than by ensuring that we are right with God and by getting to know Him better?

Most of us have Bibles in our homes which we can pick up and read, online sermons that will explain it to us, and quiet places where we can bow the knee and pray. God has given us the means to get to know Him and time to do it – it would be remiss of us to miss such an opportunity for spiritual blessing.

Seeking the Blessing

I’m not suggesting that COVID-19 is itself a blessing; on the contrary, there are strong grounds to call it a curse and a judgment from God (see https://kinlochfc.org/the-why-of-covid-19/). Neither am I suggesting that lockdown is going to be easy for everyone, especially those who are already lonely and isolated.

But for many who have been too busy and whose calendars have been too full, self-isolation could be the gateway to life-changing blessing. It is an opportunity to re-assess, re-focus and get right with God.

Let’s not hurry away the days or misuse them by being slaves to smartphones, news bulletins, or Netflix. Rather, let us capitalise on this new-found time by seeking the blessing that it offers. Who knows but that, as a result, our homes, like that of the landless crofters in Back, will again be filled with ‘real human happiness.’