The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. What started as an obscure virus that shut down a Chinese city I’d never heard of grew to have a crippling effect on worldwide economies and daily life.
Now, talk of returning to “normal” has been disrupted by national rioting and unrest in the wake of the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd tragedies. Cities and communities are reeling, trying to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, disagreement over decisions around the pandemic has tempers flaring and fingers pointing.
Changes have gradually and hesitantly started to filter into the headlines. One state opened their beaches. Others have opened retail. My state just lifted its stay-at-home order, and we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Looking ahead to a future without quarantine orders, it’s tempting to imagine life returning to the normal we remember. But what if it doesn’t? At least not right away? Or what if life eventually does go back to the way it was — and we find out we aren’t the same?
The last couple of months have left their mark on all of us. What are we supposed to expect from life after corona?
How we’ve changed
The preschool where I work was closed for over a month, and my church is still doing services online. I had several interstate trips planned — all of which were postponed until further notice.
But my experience is mild compared to many others. Some have lost jobs or had their wages reduced or suspended. Weddings, graduations and even funerals have been canceled or postponed. Some have paid an even steeper price, watching friends and family members die from the virus. Everyone will come out on the other side of this with a unique and painful story to tell.
Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher now working from home after our state closed schools for the remainder of the school year. “The district is providing students with continuous learning opportunities where teachers are assisting students as needed,” she says. “Our school year has ended with no closure, leaving my five-year-olds and myself confused and missing a sense of normalcy.”
Joey is finishing up his freshman year at a local university, where classes have moved exclusively online. “Since everyone is restricted at home, it puts a certain block on the aspect of wanting to go somewhere but not being able to. I would say that this is the biggest thing that has affected me. Mostly because I love being social, meeting new people, and trying new things.”
Angela works in communications for the federal government and, like many others, she has had to adjust to working from home. “Since COVID-19 is the only thing happening in the world (or so it feels), I spend the majority of my day talking and writing about this virus and the federal government’s response,” she writes. “It feels like there is a gaping hole in my life and no amount of work or Zoom calls seem to fill the void of human interaction.”
Morgan recently moved to Japan, where the COVID-19 pandemic hit sooner than it did here in the U.S. “As a missionary just beginning in a new place, the virus has made transition and adjustment a bit more difficult,” she says. “Many events and evangelistic opportunities have been canceled, some Bible studies have moved online, and making local friends has become a bit more challenging. But there are also some blessings, like extra time for language study, and extra phone calls with friends back home who have more free time.”
While we have all experienced new challenges in recent weeks, many of us have found unexpected blessings, too. That said, how do we step into an uncertain future after such a tumultuous time?
Tips for re-entry
The fact is, we don’t know what lies ahead. “I want everything to go back to the way it was,” Angela says. “But I know it won’t. We’ve all suffered something similar to trauma. Trauma of isolation, of losing all control. Hopefully this will encourage us to trust God more and not fear, but I think the fear and anxiety of this time will leave many with scars.”
As we begin to work toward embracing a new “normal,” here are some tips to consider:
Don’t rush it.
We had to adjust to drastic change practically overnight, and we will still be experiencing change as we emerge on the other side of this. Don’t set high expectations for the first few weeks or even months. Continue to practice self-care. Those coping mechanisms you’ve learned for dealing with prolonged isolation? You’ll need them as you re-enter social life, too. Did you need to process out loud? Find someone who will listen. Did journaling or regular exercise help? Don’t stop when the stay-at-home orders lift.
“This extended time at home and in quiet have taught me a lot,” Elizabeth says. “I see in myself a great need for self-care and taking the time to fill my bucket before I can fill others. I adore teaching, but it’s quite draining. I want to re-enter this world with more balance, allowing myself to be refreshed and filled before I give and care for others.”
Carry the lessons you’ve learned with you.
What have you learned about God in these last few months? What have you learned about yourself? About living with (or without) others? Allow yourself time to reflect on your experiences and work through some of the emotions you’ve felt.
“Pain, suffering, rejection, sickness, heartache — all these things are inevitable,” Angela says. “But God is still in control. He still loves us, and He has a home waiting for us where we will be free from the sufferings of this world. I think this time has made me look forward to heaven in a way I don’t think many young people do. I hope this is something all of my peers are learning to look forward to.”
Don’t think everything has to go back to the way it was.
This is your chance to choose what re-enters your calendar — so consider not filling it up right away. Take it a day or two at a time — like we have for the last few months.
This time of living life at a slower pace has reminded me of the importance of being still, and I want to find ways to keep unrushed time in my normal week even after I return to preschool teaching.
“I think I will treasure hugs more, be more intentional about getting together in person with friends instead of just virtually,” Morgan says, “and I will never take for granted the ease of international travel in this century.”
Give yourself and others time.
You have experienced and learned and lost a lot. So have the people around you. We will all be adjusting (and readjusting) at different paces and in different ways. We’re in uncharted territory and we will face extra challenges as we work toward normalcy, making some mistakes in the process. We all need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and some time to process.
“When we get back to some normalcy, things will look incredibly different,” Elizabeth says. “I expect to alter my expectations of my students as well as for myself. The phrase ‘go slow to go fast’ will be a new mantra in the classroom.”
Focus on others.
Many Boundless fans were challenged and encouraged through taking the Boundless Quarantine Challenge. They completed action steps like writing a letter or finding things to donate. Look for ways to continue to put others’ needs before your own — and keep seeking out community.
“During this pandemic, my circle of friends regularly call or text one another to see how they are doing or just to interact with someone,” Joey says. “This is something that I believe I should continue to do even when we are able to return to our normal way of life.”
Reach out for help.
Talk to people you trust. Be honest and open about any struggles and questions you have. If you don’t feel the need to process any more than you already have, that’s great. But if — or when — you realize you need help working through what you’ve experienced, know you aren’t the only one.
Jessica Bonesteel is a licensed professional counselor affiliated with Focus on the Family. “With the coronavirus, we are going through a collective traumatic event that impacts each individual in different but similar ways,” she writes. “With trauma comes pain, loss and fear that each of us needs to work through so that we don’t get stuck with unprocessed trauma leading to fear-based behaviors.”
A professional counselor could be very helpful in this process. “If this trauma is triggering past traumas…or the effects of this trauma are significantly impacting your ability to function well in daily life, then set up a session with a Christian counselor,” Jessica recommends.
Hope for the future
Right as coronavirus concerns started ramping up in my state, I was supposed to go to a girls’ night for my sister-in-law’s birthday. “Maybe next year we’ll do a party,” her sister told me when it became clear we would have to cancel.
Maybe next year. Who knows what our daily reality will be like then? Will we be back to our pre-pandemic normal or living some new normal we have yet to see?
We don’t know. But either way, we can look toward the future with hope.
“I’ve struggled with fear my whole life, and I hope I can walk away from this with a little more trust in God and a little less fear of what the world holds,” Angela shares. “I also hope I learn to enjoy every day and recognize what a gift it is to be among friends.”
The God who walked with us through this pandemic scare will walk with us in our unknown future, too. Be strong in hope, friends, and take one day at a time. We’re getting there.
Copyright 2020 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.