As the longtime radio personality Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now, the rest of the story.” Two-and-a-half months ago we were all watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before us. Nobody expected that schools would finish the year online or we would make face masks a new fashion statement. Three months ago if you walked into a store wearing a mask, you would likely have earned a conversation with the security guard or a police officer. Today if you don’t wear a mask, you could receive the ire of employees and customers alike. A couple of weeks ago, a man even launched death threats at those not wearing masks at a grocery store (as if the threat of getting the coronavirus wasn’t already enough).
The issue is, while circumstances and norms can quickly change, our mindsets and physiological responses aren’t quite as malleable. Reports tell us crime is up, domestic violence is up, we are susceptible to the “Quarantine 15” (gaining 15 pounds), and other unhealthy stress-release mechanisms. While many of my introverted friends have declared they have been training for this their whole lives, most of us do not do well cooped up and cut off from friends and family. Even for kids it has gotten so bad, one parent told me her son was playing Marco Polo in their pool by himself. God made it pretty clear we are pack animals when He looked at Adam and said, “It is not with God that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2:18, NRSV).
I am sure you are as excited as my wife is about additional stores and salons being opened. That will help a bit, but the economics of the last few months and restrictions moving forward are a hard-hitting reality. While we have, thus far, been spared the brunt of this pandemic, the world is in flux and we are dealing with extraordinary change. It seems every week there is a new shortage or threat thereof. We have gone from shortages of toilet paper to the threat of pork, chicken and beef shortages. Growing up I heard there were only two constants, death and taxes, but in reality, there is only one steadfast constant in life, the enduring love of God. Psalm 136:1 reminds us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV).
Some of us will be able to enjoy our new normal sooner than others, but for all, God certainly will help strengthen us to endure. In addition, there are some tangible hands-on techniques to help us deal with our continued close quarters even as we begin our new normalcy. First, take care of your body. Eat healthy, stretch and go for a walk (if able), and stay away from addictive behaviors. Get rest. Second, create a routine. Set a daily wake-up and go-to-sleep time as well as a start-and-finish time for those working from home. This will help create a sense of normalcy. Stay connected to friends, family and community. Technology can certainly help, but there is nothing wrong with talking to your neighbors out on the sidewalks and driveways as you maintain social distancing. Fourth, limit your media intake. Check the news a couple of times a day (if you must); don’t glue yourself to a screen 24/7. It will overwhelm you. Remember God is with you and his promise is, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV).
Remember we are stronger together than separate, so don’t fail to reach out. We will get through this current season with God’s help and together.
Jim Flagg is the reverend at First Methodist Humble.