You Can Do This! Reflections on living through a pandemic
In reflecting lately about these past six months of adjusting to the new reality of living in the era of a pandemic, I have been struck by how much the emotional roller-coaster resembles the first six to twelve months of adjusting to a new culture and to missionary life. Having grown up with missionary parents and now having served for twenty years in missions as an adult in multiple locations, I’ve been through this process numerous times.
Upon being suddenly thrust into a new environment, one feels an odd combination of high drama, excitement, anticipation, fear, uncertainty. What will this new environment require of me? Am I up to this challenge? What new language, culture, and ways of doing things will I need to learn? I think we all certainly felt this in the early months of 2020. Suddenly we were all gripped by a new realization that life was changing dramatically—perhaps forever. We quickly learned the new language (coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine). We were confronted with the need to alter our ways of interacting with people. We stocked up on necessities and learned how to properly wash our hands and sanitize our homes. We wrestled with how to be wise and cautious while not overreacting.
Those first months are both exciting (though in a somewhat dark way) and disorienting. It doesn’t take long for reality to set in and the newness to wear off. And this is when grief sets in. When adjusting to life in a new country, there is a grieving over what has been left behind, of who has been left behind. There is a new realization that life really has changed and that there’s no going back—no matter how much we want to do so. And even if we could physically go back, we wouldn’t be the same people. I certainly felt this way in May and June. Quarantine and hyper-awareness grew tiresome. I missed loved ones that I couldn’t see anymore. I missed feeling competent and confident in confronting daily challenges. I missed the predictability and certainty of my previous routines. This season has changed me.
It has been an emotional roller-coaster—one day feeling optimistic and confident, the next discouraged and frightened. But just like when adjusting to a new culture, we slowly emerge with newfound resilience. “We’ve made it this far.” The new language is now fully enmeshed in our conversation. The new ways of doing things become habits we no longer give much thought to. We can look back on our prior life with more than just frustration and a sense of loss. And we have the energy to look for ways to celebrate what this new normal might have in store for us.
Our missionary team here in Europe and the Middle East has remained very close, albeit virtually, through these tumultuous months. I’m proud of how we have encouraged each other, strengthened each other, cried together, vented our frustrations and fears together, laughed together. Our team has been resilient and continues to grow in resilience—from our eldest veterans down to our youngest kids.
No one really knows what the coming months and years will hold. We face a world gripped not just by a pandemic but also by civil unrest, economic devastation, and toxic politics. But just like when adjusting to a new culture and life on the mission field, most of us don’t need solid answers or solutions. What we need is for someone to say, “I get it. This is hard, but you’re not alone and you can do this. We’ll figure it out together. The Lord didn’t bring you this far only to abandon you, and in God’s economy, not one second of your journey is wasted.” If we can all strive to be that someone for the people in our lives, then we’ll all get through this together.