April 15, 2020. I type these words in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a season that is in many ways unprecedented. It is a time of great uncertainty, fear, change, grief and so much more. It is in many ways unfamiliar territory as communities, schools, businesses and entire countries are shutting down. People are facing economic and physical hardship, loss of jobs, loss of life and much more.
Why we Need to Check in on Each Other
One of my habits on a daily basis has been to check in on some people. It may be someone who I am worried about for some reason, someone who randomly comes to mind, someone whom I suspect does not get checked in on much by others or someone I see post on social media. For me, this has seemed natural. At first, I figured I was doing it solely because I just happen to really like and care about people and it makes sense. Today, in a casual text conversation with a friend and colleague whom I was checking in on, it struck me that perhaps there was something deeper going on.
I know what it is like to need someone to check in on me.
Not right now, not even in the midst of Covid-19, but recently enough that I can remember the sights, smells and feelings of that season.
It was January 26-February 26 of this year. I had just returned from a great conference at Disney on creativity. I was at a time in my life where I finally was putting the health of my family and myself in the driver’s seat. I was getting more healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, intellectually and relationally than I ever had in my lifetime. I was setting healthy habits and boundaries, eliminating toxicity and finding myself in a place of great trust and deep peace.
While there was not a particular event that brought on this season of deep depression, discouragement and pain, I can in hindsight point to the main contributing factors. The biggest factor was my Season Affective Disorder (google it). A long, dark winter was eating at the chemical balance in a profound way. Additionally, I was in a season that saw the loss and change of many friendships. My relationship with one of my closest friends was altered forever, and they did not even seem to notice or care. Add to that some financial fears and being in transition and it’s easy to see why I got there. Somehow, whether by time, finding the right support, a change in weather or a combination of factors, I found myself out of this season on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian season of Lent.
In that month, I felt more alone than I had ever felt. People knew I was struggling and not one person bothered to check in on me. I reached out to many and there were few that could or wanted to help. It wasn’t always because people didn’t want to. Maybe it was busyness, fear, not knowing what to do, or dealing with own life struggles. I never saw it as intentional, but it certainly did not make it easier. Besides my wife Jessica and a 2 or 3 friends, I had no one to walk with me. No one knows how to help the helper. It was really, really hard.
Yet out of every difficult thing can come something good. In hindsight, that season prepared me for Covid-19, as a person, a pastor, a husband, father, friend and human being. They say hindsight is 20-20. I say that God redeems all things for good. I suspect one of the reasons I am driven to check in on people in this season is because of my experience in that season of my life.
The truth is that this season of Covid-19 is hard for everyone, and many people feel more alone than they ever have. The issues are many: uncertainty, loss of routine, loss of job or income, loss of social connection, perceived/temporary loss of freedom, fear, grief and much more.
It is a lot of emotion to process, and to have to process it in isolation while so many others are struggling is incredibly difficult. Isolation is hard for everyone. We are used to untethered freedom and independence. We are social creatures built to be in relationships, even those who are introverts. Quarantine is an extrovert’s worst nightmare. We have no real experience with something like this and no one has any answers about what the future might look like that we can have any confidence in.
It turns out, that in spite of all the resources and technology in the world, in spite of living in a globalized, overly informed, technology rich era, we still need each other. It may be the loneliest season in U.S. history at the very least in the last 90-100 years.
Isolation. Uncertainty. Loss. Grief. Transition. Change.
We need to check in on one another because this is hard, and we cannot do it alone. We need to check in on each other because we are not good at asking for help. We need to check in on each other because we need connection and support. We need to check in on each other because it is the only way to relearn what it means to be #inthistogether and #bettertogether. We need to check in on each other because we still carry guilt and shame around asking for help. We need to check in on each other because our society has bought into the lie that needing help is a sign of weakness. We need to check into each other because we are all grieving something right now and grief is not meant to be done alone.
One morning, while lying in bed, my wife, with much emotion, said to me, ‘I just want to go back to normal.’
The normal we knew before this pandemic is gone and it is gone forever.
It’s. Not. Coming. Back. Ever.
Pardon my honesty, but I embrace the Stockdale Paradox: never lose hope but confront the brutal facts.
I have not lost hope.
A new normal will emerge.
God will use this for good.
I am fully confident that with some time and with some reflection on our parts, it will be better than the old normal. This is not the end of the world. It’s not the end of us. It’s not the end of my story, your story, our story, THE story.
Other Important Thoughts on Transition, Grief, Change and More
We are in a season of transition. Transition sucks. Transition is hard. Much to my wife’s objections and continued dismay, I liken transition to constipation. It is not the end of the world, but it’s not as things should be. It’s natural and normal, but very uncomfortable. It’s not meant to last forever. Eventually, it will pass. After it passes, you will feel better, but in the meantime, you are in discomfort waiting for what is next, waiting for this season to pass. It will pass, and we will survive. Transition is a process.
As a society, we hate process. We are incredibly impatient. We are always on the move. We suck at resting, slowing, practicing sabbath.
Speaking of process, change and healing are both also a process. I have recently been in the process of healing and of change and as much as I wanted to rush both, I had to let them happen. We are all there right now. Nobody likes change, except of course for change they see coming, change they choose, change they control, change that benefits them. Guilty as charged.
One more thing…
Grief is a process.
I have had to say this countless times as a pastor. I have had to say it countless times to myself. I have had to say it countless times each day in the last several weeks.
Grief is not reserved for the death of another human being.
We grieve all kinds of loss.
In fact, we don’t actually resist change, we resist loss. Real loss and perceived loss.
Grief is the expression of loss. It does not have to be a person; it can be a habit, routine or any kind of change. It is not change that we resist; it is the loss associated with the change. We can grieve most anything, and many times the feelings that we feel are grief and we do not realize it. Grief is a unique, non-linear process that looks different for everyone. Grief is the heart’s way of healing, much like the body has ways to heal when it is hurt or injured.
In the midst of Covid-19 we are all grieving.
We are grieving change. We are grieving loss of connection. We are grieving the loss of routine. We are grieving the loss of security and certainty. We are grieving economic loss. We are grieving the loss of going to church. We are grieving the loss of freely going out and about as we please without fear. We are grieving the loss of relevance in our work as so much shifts online. We are grieving for high school seniors, for other students, for teachers. In my home there has been much grief about the loss of the school year. We grieve a lack of closure.
We are grieving the loss of normal.
Grief is natural even though it does not feel that way. Grief is the heart’s way of healing.
Grief is the heart’s way of healing, and we have to allow grief to happen to us.
This feels so unnatural and so counterintuitive, which is is why we resist grief with such ferocity.
Ironically, resisting grief only compounds it. You will just have to trust me on that one.
Want to know what is interesting about grief? Every book, article, blog, video and message I have experienced around grief whether from a religious or secular perspective, from mental health experts, pastors, grief experts, all say one identical thing about grief. From Victor Frankl to Brene Brown, everyone agrees: the way through, beyond, past and after grief is to find and create meaning.
The way through grief is to find and create meaning.
It turns out while everything changes and there is nothing new under the sun all at the same time that the key to grief is, always has been and always will be finding meaning.
That is a process. It’s one we cannot force or control. It’s a process that takes time.
We are so impatient, especially with pain, suffering and grief. I am really, really, impatient and gladly I am much better than I used to be. In my limited life experience and in my immense experience in dealing with a wide variety of grief personally and professionally, I have found that it is near impossible to find and create meaning in the midst of grief alone.
We need God.
We need each other.
Grief is a journey meant to be driven through in the midst of relationship, in the midst of community.
Want to know what is great about meaning?
It’s our hope.
It means that this season, this Covid-19 pandemic is not the end of the story.
We will make it through this.
Better yet, we can make it through this better and stronger.
The great news about Covid-19: in the midst of our grief, we can find deep, life and world changing meaning.
We are all grieving, but our grief is not the end of the story and it’s not forever. Out of the muck, mire and mud will emerge something great and beautiful.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson
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