My spirit is near exhaustion. Every fiber of my pandemic weary soul craves wisdom. I am not alone when declaring these past two years one of the most challenging seasons in recent history. There are teams of scientists, doctors, nurses, and leaders around the globe working tirelessly to find answers and solutions to the COVID crisis. While they struggle to mitigate the effects of a worldwide pandemic, ordinary people like you and I are left to navigate the emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual realities of this strange world. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across wisdom from long ago that has helped me think about this season in a healthier way.
The writer of Ecclesiastes declares, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) I can hear the howls of protest. COVID is new! The world has never seen anything like this before. The isolation, masks, fighting about how best to navigate this season, all of this is new. What we really mean is that it is new to me. Taken to a deeper level, we are saying that this is the first time my life has been impacted by anything like this.
Any serious look at history reveals that pandemics and all that comes with them are not new. “What has been will be again; there is nothing new under the sun.” What makes COVID unique is that you and I are alive to experience it. We are the ones struggling to navigate a world in chaos.
As I read through the history of pandemics, one thing becomes apparent. As hard as the past few years have been, I would rather navigate this COVID season than the bubonic plague of 1350, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, or any other recorded pandemic in history. The tools that science and technology provide us mean that we can travel this journey with relative ease compared to past pandemics. Part of remaining emotionally and spiritually healthy during trying times is working to stay grateful. Practicing “gratitude” helps us travel difficult times with a spirit of peace and joy. I am thankful for lessons learned from past pandemics and the technology that allows us to remain connected (ZOOM and such) while protecting each other from disease.
Good Old Days
As the reality of COVID started to become real, and we entered a season of shutdown and isolation, people began to express a longing of their hearts. I can’t wait until things return to the way they were before COVID. I heard that sentiment expressed in various ways as the months dragged on. Sometimes spoken with a sense of urgency, we have to return to the way things were or what was will fall apart. Often conveying hurt and loss, I miss the opportunity to gather as we did before COVID; it feels like we are missing something important. No matter how it was expressed, we were/are mourning something that was. As months turned into years, we began to speak some of those same thoughts with a spirit of defeat and resignation. I don’t believe things will ever return to normal. We have lost our pre-COVID life forever.
The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks to these feelings.
Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
How many times have we tried to return to something from our past only to find it did not hold the power, joy, glory with which we remembered it? Time moves on. People change, places are transformed, the good old days largely exist in romanticized dreams of our minds.
Creating New Memories
Years ago, I took Joseph and Rayann to visit one of my favorite childhood places. I have vivid memories of walks on the beach, a quiet neighborhood, meals at the local diner, and visiting relatives in the family cemetery. As we pulled into the “quiet community,” it was clear things had changed. There was Rita’s water ice where my uncle’s house once stood. The quiet road crawled with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Malls and parking lots now surround a once quiet and peaceful cemetery. It was clear nobody cared for the place much. I struggled to find the diner. On my third trip down the road, I passed a vacant lot and realized my favorite diner had burned down years ago.
There was a moment where I mourned what had been. Why were the old days better than these? Then it was time to make new memories with Joseph and Rayann. We found a new diner, enjoyed some Rita’s while I told stories of my uncle, and found new ways to celebrate this special place. It turns out I enjoyed this new day more than the “old days” of my memories. Strangely enough that “new day” has become the memory I long to return to today. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”
Remembering and celebrating what was is a good thing. Mourning the people, places, and experiences of our past is a process. It takes time. We need to extend ourselves and others’ grace as we remember what was. When our look to the past robs us of seizing the best today has to offer or keeps us from moving with a spirit of gratitude and joy, trouble is brewing.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says,
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
An anxious spirit can easily result in us saying or doing something we will later regret. When I am “stuck” in a place of mourning or remembering what was, unable to see the good that is taking place in the present, my spirit becomes anxious. My actions and the words I speak do not come from a place of peace, hope, or joy…in short, I act the fool.
This holiday season COVID has once again changed my plans, kept me from celebrating in a “normal” way. As someone who is immune-compromised, our family works very hard to remain COVID-free. There have been moments where each of us has thought that our situation is less than ideal. We have talked about traditions of the past which we long to participate in this year. Mourning the “good old days, an anxious spirit rises.” I fear speaking or acting the fool.
A Good End
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes continues,
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
My anxious spirit is calmed in quieter, more reflective times, and I can see more clearly. I take a breath, practice patience, and can reflect on “the end of a matter.”
COVID has taught the business world that it is possible, even preferable, for people to work from home. As a result, Joseph will spend close to three weeks with us. When you work online, it does not matter if you work from Georgia or Pennsylvania. Our family has been blessed with the opportunity to spend three weeks together. Our New Years’ plans? Chinese food, a bunch of board games, and snacks while the ball drops at midnight. My hunch is that Nancy and I might view this year differently in years to come. When Joseph and Rayann are off doing their thing, and Nancy and I are alone on New Year’s eve, we will look at each other and say, “Do you remember the great time we had with our kids during New Year 2021?”
Funny, isn’t it? At the moment, our anxious spirit focuses on what once was, causing us to miss what is in front of us. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Joy, peace, and a life filled with purpose can be ours when we live with grateful hearts for what is and eagerly await how the Spirit will move in our lives.
As we head into a new year, for what, or who are you grateful?
Is your spirit anxious about anything? Sometimes naming the source of our anxiety can be the first step towards healing.
Looking forward, in what situation or relationship do you need to remain patient? The end of a matter is often better than the beginning. Invite the Spirit to grant you peace and patience so you will see the good thing that is being done in your world.