Most of us have had our nice comfortable lives severely disrupted in the past couple months. Many retreat to the good ole’ days in their minds, just riding this current world-wide crisis out, waiting to return to ‘normal’ life, to business as usual. Others turn to conspiracy theories to explain the current situation because we all want someone to blame for all our troubles – someone to crucify, so that we can get rid of our troubles. I would like to suggest that both of these mindsets are potentially problematic for the true disciple of Jesus.
I recall in my childhood whenever we children were in trouble, all the blame games we played. With 4 siblings, there was never a shortage of scapegoats. Funnily though, our parents were rarely much interested in who was responsible for starting the whole mess, but rather more on what to do now…the way forward. This usually involved heart searching as to each child’s role in the matter, repentance, and a commitment to doing better.
Back to us in this Covid era…are we too busy just waiting this thing out so we can get back to business as usual as soon as possible or feverishly trying to lay the blame for it all at someone’s feet, or are we doing some honest soul searching as to what God may want us to learn in this whole mess?
I must say I’ve personally probably done a bit of each one. Just as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with her famous stages of grieving, I have noticed stages of life in social isolation. This is nothing scientific but just some observations from the online posts of others, what I have observed in others I have been able to interact with, and most of all, from my own experience.
First comes the denial, often mingled with anger. Let’s call it Angry Denial. This can’t be happening to us! We’re good people, how can this happen? You want me to what?! Try to educate my kids at home? Work from home? Stay away from my friends and extended family? You’ve got to be kidding! I can’t manage this! Surely, the world is coming to an end!
Next comes the lethargy and boredom. Maybe this one can be called Lethargic Boredom. It has been too long since you’ve been out partying with friends, or since you’ve been to church, or you’ve met with colleagues at work. You are feeling restless, or bored, or lethargic. You begin to let yourself go a bit, looking as rough as you are feeling inside – hanging around the house in your pyjamas all day, not shaving, not bothering to brush your hair or even to take showers. You may stay up too late every night online feverishly trying to stay in touch with others virtually and then sleep in too late every morning. You lose track of weeks, days or even hours. You may start forgetting commitments made. You may indulge in junk food (like I’m nibbling on Oreos now) and neglect your exercise. Why bother? Who will see me anyway? This is going on too long…!
Following this stage is the Creative Adaptation stage. Many of us begin to realize this situation is not going to be as short as we had hoped and start feeling like we need to pull our socks up (maybe literally). If we’re in this for the long haul, we may as well make the best of it! Now is when we drag out that old hobby we used to do that gave us such pleasure or learn a new one. That instrument I used to play in high school or college…where did I put that? We may embark on that big project that we have needed to do for a long time but never were able to find time to start on. How about learning a new language or baking or sewing? Maybe I’ll learn to cut my hair or let my spouse (or parent or grown child) experiment on me (after all who’s going to see anyway…unless I video chat…).
Finally, and I say finally because this is as far as I’ve gone myself. Who knows? There may be another yet-to-be-seen stage. This one involves honest introspection, so let’s call it Personal Heart-Searching. This is where I have been asking God (others may ask themselves) where my own role is in all this. Will I really be content to return to business as usual or will things have changed so much that I need to find a new reality? Will how I lived before this crisis even be applicable anymore in the new reality? How would God have me live and relate with others in the new, post-Covid era, in a way that would best represent Him to others? How might God be refining me in this current furnace of disease and social isolation? What actions, words, and attitudes have arisen that are displeasing to Him and misrepresent Him to others? These are the kinds of questions that have been swirling in my mind in the past week or so.
Like the stages of grieving, we may not fully leave one stage before entering a new one. We may vacillate between stages or they may overlap. But if we can be aware of what is happening internally and consciously work our way through them, we may find ourselves in a better place mentally, emotionally, socially (with the ones we are living with at least) and spiritually. In this time of enforced slow-down, let us take advantage and use the time well for reflection and to allow ourselves to be changed for the better in order to better prepare us for the days that lie ahead.