“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust…He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings will you find refuge.”
I saw a meme the other day that encapsulated the way I feel about 2020 and COVID-19. It said: “This is not September 15th. It’s March 182nd.” Given that I kept trying to date my case notes with a March date well into May…I found that uncomfortably relatable.
But, other than internet content that has increasingly spiraled into greater depths of both hilarity and controversy, how is COVID-19 impacting us, nearly 7 months into the pandemic? What impact is this having on our families? Our churches? Ourselves?
“What a ridiculous question, Sarah. A negative one, of course! Get out of here!”
Okay, fine, but let’s look deeper. If you want to work on making something better, you have to do the hard work of facing it. Shall we?
Let’s start with our families.
School looks different this year, and our kids are feeling the strain – new technology and new routines are leaving parents and kids feeling frustrated and tired. I frequently see school-age kids after school in my practice, and I’ve found many of them simply fatigued by having to sit through yet another tele-meeting with me after already staring at a screen all day. Parents are worn, many having experienced job loss, overwork, financial strain, difficulty adjusting to virtual work or learning, and marital strain.
Both adults and kids have experienced drastically less time with friends as the pandemic has continued, leaving us all feeling isolated and lonely at times. Even visiting extended family members must be carefully considered, with those elderly or immunocompromised requiring an additional level of isolation for their safety. Going out in public also carries an added level of strain as everyone considers how to best keep themselves and others safe. Even simply going to the grocery store requires that one considers wearing a mask, social distancing, and being mindful of surface and airborne germs! When did picking up a gallon of milk become so stressful?!
We are tired. We are frustrated.
Let’s look at our churches.
In the past several months, our churches have had to navigate an unenviable amalgam of regulations, best intentions, wisdom, and common sense when deciding how to best minister to and love their families. Our services look different, as attendance fluctuates and more people are watching online, and the sanctuary is not as full. Church leadership has to navigate decision after decision, with information that sometimes changes day to day or week to week!
We don’t see each other as often. Last year, while I was pregnant with our (adorable) son, I delighted in sharing our journey with many wonderful brothers and sisters at RHC. Since he was born, I can count on two hands the number of people in our church family who have held him, though he has attended plenty of online services, prayer meetings, and small groups. Needless to say, this is not how I imagined sharing him with our church family. Though we often long for the closeness of our fellow believers, loving each other has looked different this year, as we keep distance to keep safe.
We are isolated. We miss our fellow believers.
The normal stresses of life (job, kids, marriage, extended family, car issues, bills, etc.) have continued – alas! But the overarching strain of COVID-19 has placed an additional weight on us that impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. As we’ve already discussed, very few things are as simple as they were 8 months ago – grocery shopping, going on dates, school, paying bills, visiting friends or elderly family members, going to church…I could go on, but you already know.
Nearly everything we do seems to demand more energy. As a therapist, I have watched my clients become more and more heavily weighted as the months have passed. We wrestle with uncertainty on a daily basis, and we humans don’t like uncertainty – it wreaks havoc on our mental health. Rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses have increased significantly as the pandemic continues, especially among first responders and essential workers. As the crisis continues to unfold, mental health providers are bracing to face the fallout of the pandemic in the years to come, though practitioners are struggling, too.
We are hurting. We are weighed down.
So what are we supposed to do?
I exhorted you earlier to look at the hard issues. Now that we have done so, we can ask ourselves two questions:
- How has this pandemic changed my family? Changed my church? Changed me?
- What do I want to do differently? What positive changes do I want to keep?
Yes, technically that was five questions. Humor me!
The answers to these questions can help you set goals and identify how you can work to make things better. I encourage you now to look for solutions, ways to be intentional.
Is your family feeling tense or fractured from the stress? Plan some time to intentionally unwind together, play some games, or go for a hike. Set healthy boundaries around your family by saying ‘no’ to work when you can and making time for a date night (or two) just for you and your spouse.
Are you feeling disconnected from your church family? See if there is an in-person or online small group that fits your needs or explore attending a socially distant service. Reach out to fellow believers and schedule some time together, in-person or virtually.
Do you feel increasingly exhausted and weighed down by stress or something even heavier? Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, be intentional about taking care of yourself through healthy food, exercise, and sleep, and maybe even explore the possibility of seeking professional counseling.
Are there any positive changes? Family spending more quality time together? Great! No longer taking friendships for granted? Awesome! Pouring yourself more fervently into your relationship with God? Rock on! Exercising more? Please, tell me how you manage that with children!
If you’re doing good things, keep doing them.
Thankfully, amidst all this change, we can remember and hold fast to the knowledge that God is bigger than all of this. This time of crisis is neither new nor a surprise to Him, and He is always ready to enfold us in His loving arms. He is our anchor, our port of safety in the storms, our lighthouse – never changing, always certain.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”