Of Hearts Grown Fonder

“Semper in absentees Felicia rose aestus amantes.” —Sextus Propertius, Elegies III, c. 29BC

It has taken a global pandemic to do it, but 21st century life has at last slowed. Pastors and pundits have been urging us for some while toward less-harried, more contemplative lives ever since our performance and productivity seemed to become wed to ever-increasing micro-processor speeds. “Faster and faster,” they’ve said all along, is at odds with the design of both the human spirit and physiology.

So now here we are, sheltered in place, at a safe social distance from anyone else, and working from home. “Come as you are”—the 90s-era license permitting church folks to leave their go-to-meetin’ clothes in the closet in favor of jeans and t-shirts—now endorses without direct knowledge showing up in pajamas and house slippers as we worship via livestream in the company of the few already acculturated to seeing what we look like in the first hours of the day.

Yes, Zoom, Hangouts, and FaceTime are permitting educators and information economy workers to soldier on. Our own family plans its first-ever Zoom Family Reunion over the weekend. But I recall our seven-year-old grandson’s wisdom when during a visit before all this he told his Grandy, “FaceTime is good, but you can’t touch.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Two thousand and fifty years ago a Roman poet penned the lines that appear at the beginning of this post, translated as “Always toward absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.” Idiomologists believe it to be the origin of the contemporary expression, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It’s one of those things we just know to be true. When those most important have been apart from us, our fondness grows; reunion is sweet. It was as true for Sextus Propertius as it was for the sprinting father of the prodigal son. Indeed, a 2007 broad-based anthropological study of cellphone records established empirical evidence to support this idiom—as if that was necessary.

When our students first heard of our decision to conduct classes online the balance of the semester, their greatest lament was the loss of community. A school like ours that fashions itself distinctive because of our highly relational environment—student-to-student, student-to-professor, all-to-a-local-church—can’t help feel the approach much compromised at present.

That’s one reason why this week we mobilized both the students and the contributors to The Serious Joy Scholarship to be in touch with each other, to make much of the “personal ministry for Jesus Christ” that this program represents, not as a fundraising endeavor but as a hedge against social deficits imposed on both by the response to this pandemic. There will be opportunity enough to report on the financial impact of it all, in due time. For now, let us just be there for one another.

We hope this is a time for you during which your Bible reading is less hurried, a time to see and savor the King in his beauty. Our prayers needn’t rush by the throne of grace. Now, we may linger there. We’ll read good books, call old friends, discover new trails. We’ll lift up those brought low by this virus, seek to sustain those in the thick of it with our prayers and, if we’re able, our service. We are sure to learn much from this trial.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”—Matthew 22:37–40

Isn’t this present social isolation already teaching us deep things about “others,” or the “neighbor” to whom Jesus refers in the so-called “Double Love Commandment”? Yes, we’re restless about “neglecting to meet as is the habit of some” (Heb 10:25) during this sequestration, but not so much out of sense of duty or disobedience, but rather out of loss of something of the electricity of Christian life, the spontaneous combustion of saints coming together to “love and exhort each other to good works” (Heb 10:24). Let us take heart in the knowledge that in this interval of relative or actual quarantine, God is treating us to a trailer previewing that great day when the saints, long in exile, at last go marching in. It will be so good to be together again in the near-term and eternally.

COVID-19 and The Great Cessation it has spurred is also a trailer of things to come: a microcosm of a coming wrath of judgment. Yes, the whole world is sick now and many will die—without the saving knowledge of Jesus. Oh, we pray that the attendant vulnerability this virus brings, and with it the opportunity for the unsaved to slow down and ponder deep things like life’s purpose, health, wealth, and personal mortality, would provide occasion for many hard hearts to become soft and many knees to bow in adoration of the Savior.

But during this period, as our hearts’ blood ages to better vintage, may we be readied to emerge from it better able to love all “others” differently and more attentively: family members, church fellows, co-workers, neighbors, and especially the lost. May every otherwise invisible store clerk, waitress, delivery person, and passerby seem newly precious to us, as they are to Him who saved us. May their physical absence in this season cause our hearts to grow fonder than we ever knew they could be.

Rick Segal
Rick Segal is Vice President of Advancement and the Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation

Prayer Requests:

  1. Please pray for wisdom as we continue to guide our students, faculty, and staff through this ever-changing situation. Pray that we would exercise appropriate caution while at the same time encouraging each other to see this through with grace.
  2. Please pray that the Lord might be pleased to keep our community healthy and spare us of potential negative consequences.
  3. Please continue to pray for the Board of Trustees as they search for our next president. Pray that the Lord would raise up a clear, top candidate who will be able to lead us into the future.