Even with all the memes and comic relief going around, we all know people are hurting and facing losses that are anything but humorous. And for some, the loss of community and meaningful connection weighs heavily as the days have now moved from weeks to months and the timeline for this to end is as vague as ever. So whether we like it or not, quarantine life, in one form or another, is here to stay. As is the possibility of empty shelves on the toilet paper aisle at the market, apparently.
The challenges we had in February of how to juggle all the practices, games, and social activities have been replaced by concerns about meeting basic daily needs and making sure lessons are completed for five children. The even more bizarre thing is that the entire world is walking through this crisis time together. This fact should make us feel more connected but has actually done the opposite for many. Isolation and loneliness have pressed in even harder on people and the statistics of people doing harm to themselves and others are rising.
As time goes on the temptation is to look at our individual circumstances and think that others are connecting but, for some reason, we have been left out. I have heard lamenting in our own home from one of my children that he wasn’t connecting with his friends. They weren’t reaching out and he was feeling disconnected and wanted a conversation with someone other than his siblings. A perfectly reasonable feeling to have right now. Still, I wondered how aggressive he had been in reaching out to connect with others. It’s natural to want to feel connected, but not always easy to reach out.
In sharing this I’m not trying to throw my kid under the bus. I know he’s young and doing his best to process this new reality—we all are. And I suspect my son is not alone in how he’s feeling. Maybe you’ve felt this way, too?
No doubt this season has been difficult for everyone and it’s always nice when someone else reaches out to say hello and check in with us. But maybe no one has texted or called in days and you’re feeling even more alone than ever. It’s tempting to believe that others have been connecting and you’re being left out of social interactions intentionally. That’s a tough road to start walking down because we run the risk of falling into discouragement and despair. If we allow that to become our mindset the light that the world desperately needs to see from us grows dimmer and dimmer as we withdraw our presence from others who are struggling without hope.
What if we believed, instead, that most people are in the same space—taking life day-to-day and doing the best they can? This is where most people I know fall, including myself. One day I have more energy and mental clarity, and the next day the internet goes out, the kids fall behind in school, and there is still no toilet paper or chicken at the store on the one day that week I make the trek out.
Likewise, in my own flesh, I may want to gather and hold onto all that I can for me or my family or withdraw and hide away until I can connect with others in person again. But I’m reminded that in Christ I don’t need to try to hold everything close to have all that I need. I know that letting go of a hoarder mindset allows goodness to flow in a way that brings life to myself and others. Sharing time, concern, attention—and possibly toilet paper—can move my heart into a posture that speaks more to what Paul shares in Philippians 2:4,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul understood as well as anyone what it meant to look beyond circumstances so that he could live every day with the intention of emptying himself out for others as Christ did. He didn’t hoard the goodness he had been given through Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice. He lived with diligence and purpose through difficult circumstances. And he did this because he understood the gospel of Christ was worth all the losses he would incur.
So, getting back to the dilemma in our own home . . . after our conversation my son decided to take the initiative and contact some of his friends to check in on them. He shifted his focus from what he expected to get and instead decided to reach out to see how everyone else was faring. This was an important shift for him for his own mental health. He needed to see that friendship was still there and that people are simply dealing with circumstances in different ways.
Shifting our mindsets to be more outwardly focused than inwardly focused right now may not feel natural, but it’s a necessary shift if we are to be beacons of hope and peace in the midst of crisis. As Christ-followers we don’t have to move in the same ways the world does: hoarding, binging, and hunkering down. We can and should love others well right now in ways that demonstrate that we are looking beyond ourselves to the good of the others in our lives.