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How to Reconnect and Rejoice

Connection.  We all long for meaningful connection.  It is probably the most profound and widespread loss associated with the pandemic.  We have missed hugging our aging parents, participating in support groups and birthday parties, seeing a smile on the face of a stranger, and even bonding with our coworkers over casual conversations in the break room.  The isolation has led many to anxiously await their chance to get back to normal while others may experience genuine anxiety at the same thought.  Most of us are somewhere between, concerned about some things and looking forward to others.  Here are some practical ways to prepare for reconnecting:

  • Prioritize the people and places that are most meaningful to you.  Most Americans lived fairly hectic and scheduled lives before the pandemic.  One way to ease back into everyday life is to consider not restarting the activities that you did not take pleasure in before.  Instead, make a list of who and what you most enjoy.  Include your family’s favorites as well so that you can be sure everyone has some meaningful ways to connect this season.  Choosing these valuable activities and relationships will help draw us out of the habits of staying at home or fears that are somewhat exaggerated.

  • Keep some free time free.  As you start filling your calendar, remember to schedule some time off.  Try planning a little quiet time for reflection each day, some free hours each week in which you can say yes to an invitation, and a whole day or weekend each month to engage in something playful or creative.  On the pages of a document, the margins provide necessary negative space so that our minds can process the information.  Likewise, people of all ages require margins of time in our lives so that we can process our thoughts and emotions.

  • Start conversations with gratitude and respect.  To help avoid awkwardness and potential offence in our first few conversations, we can be mindful about how and what we say.  Gratitude and respect are universally appreciated whether between coworkers or your favorite relations.  When talking about your time of isolation, there is no need to be dishonest, but try to focus on a few things you are grateful for from this season and give fewer details about the difficulties.  An example might be, "things got really hard for a while, but I am grateful to have stayed productive at work."  Similarly, choose a tone of respect when discussing a friend's position about things like vaccinations or politics.  For example, "I can respect your choice, even though I disagree, because I know you have given it a lot of thought."  You can also steer conversations in positive directions by saying something like, "so good to see you, tell me what you are glad to have done since I saw you last," or "everyone has had to make tough, personal decisions in this season."

  • Exercise plenty of patience and flexibility.  You can expect that you, and those around you, will become frustrated, overwhelmed, or worn out more easily in this season of reopening.  Plans are likely to shift based on comfortability with changing guidelines.  And some of us will just need to take a break now and then.  We can minimize frustration by being patient with ourselves and others, and by trying to be as flexible as possible.  If getting ready and leaving the house takes way more time and effort than you remember, then adjust your expectations and schedule accordingly.  Find a portable activity (books, games, knitting) to pass the time when friends or appointments run behind.  Keep using delivery and pick-up services on occasion, and especially when a day or week has not gone according to plan.

Of course, practical tools are only one source of strength this season.  I keep coming back to the words of the Apostle Paul, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"  I am not certain of his tone when originally penning the phrase "I will say it again," but it strikes me as loaded with meaning.  I will (have to) say it again.  I will say (not shout in anger) it again.  I will say it (not curse words or insults) again.  I will say it again (as many times as it takes).  In our human condition, rejoicing does not always come easily, even when we are looking at the Lord.  And this trying time has pushed many of us into a place where we need to repeat the command "rejoice" until it takes hold in our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits.
 
When even that is not enough, the next few lines give further instruction:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7
The Lord is near, connect with him in prayer, and that will make us ready for whatever else comes our way.  Consider, then, these edited suggestions:
  • Prioritize God before gathering with people and going places.
  • Keep some free time free just to be with Jesus.
  • Start conversations with the Lord by expressing gratitude and respect.
  • Exercise plenty of patience and flexibility for the work of the Holy Spirit.

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