An Unexpected Gift

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1–4, ESV

Isolation doesn’t come naturally to us. We want community, and we like the fellowship of other people. But when the world as we knew it came screeching to a halt last year, we all found ourselves stilled by events beyond our control. Isolation became the new normal amid a world encompassed in darkness, death, and turmoil.

Just like David, we were truly “walking through the valley” with the “shadow of death” hanging over us. David was hiding from a murderous Absalom, and we were (and are) hiding from a deadly plague.

You could almost hear creation groaning under the weight of suffering as COVID-19 spread across our fallen world.

As friends and loved ones succumbed to the shadow of death, I wondered, “Lord, what are we to make of this time?”

David’s words in Psalm 23 provide a picture of hope in dire circumstances. He uses beautiful imagery from the natural world and his own shepherding past to describe the Lord as a caring shepherd—a shepherd  who provides rest in green pastures, refreshment by quiet waters, restoration and guidance down a righteous path, and protection by His rod and staff. This passage is a reminder that the Lord can provide stillness, peace, and protection during our time of isolation and turmoil.

I recently heard Christian singer and songwriter Andrew Peterson talk about finding himself homebound during the pandemic“In 25 years, I’d never been home for every day of spring. . . . to see when the goldfinches returned, to see the crocuses come out of the ground, because I was always in and out . . . on the road.” His unexpected gift of isolation gave him a new perspective, “I had this wonderful opportunity to be still, to pay attention to where I was—to place.”

I can relate to Andrew Peterson’s story. My husband and I spent the better part of a year caring for our grandson so his parents could work from home. We, too, had the chance to be still and pay attention to place as we watched him play and grow within the natural world of our own backyard. Our isolation was an unexpected gift, a blessing that gave us a new perspective on the Lord’s provision and protection.

As the world slowly returns to normal, perhaps we can see our time of isolation in a different light, a time to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

“The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God” 

Thomas Merton

Shirley Ralston (MACE, 2008) serves on the leadership team for the DTS-Houston Alumni Association. She is a writer, teacher, and pastor’s research team member at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She is also a founding member of the HFBC Missionary Care Team. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, now reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.