The Unexpected Benefits of the Pandemic by Dr. Kimber Del Valle

If your pandemic life is anything like mine, in the past year you’ve become less scheduled and more isolated in your home.  I lost an ease in navigating life and with it, an interior silence from years of meditation practice, I hadn’t realized was so fragile.  I’ve spent much of the year trying to find parts of myself lost in the loss of rhythms and activities as well as find something more – Jesus’s love, agape love, in a manner where being not doing, is principle.  Through daily reflection and safe relationships where I can explore my discoveries, I’ve found several factors contributing to a deepening in my relationship with God, specifically experiencing His love and care that leads to action and collaboration.

For me, routines and habits have kept me grounded.  A daily dose of scripture reading and prayer has become essential.  My motivation isn’t from a parental, “have to” posture but because collaboration requires me to listen to his “still calm voice” as Elijah did.  I can’t do so if I don’t allow scripture to inform me of God’s revelation story still unfolding in present time.  I have framed this pandemic as the time Jesus metaphorically came down out of heaven and said to us all, “Come Follow me,” as he did to the disciples.  I confess, my imagination was insufficient prior to this pandemic when reading these passages.  I didn’t get the disruption required – the complete sacrifice.  I hadn’t marinated in how following Jesus with only the clothes on their back stole from them all things familiar – what their minds must have done to find their bearings.  I get a picture of that now – not knowing if food or toilet paper would be available at the store, not knowing when I’d be able to see anyone, not knowing if my business would rebound.  It’s been a time of learning how to cling to God’s sovereign love rather than cling to my normal and what I want. As we continue in the pandemic, what routines and habits do you need to stay grounded in God’s love?  What do you need to lose because it’s distracting you? What do you need to add?

I imagine, like me, you’ve had a taste of pandemic fatigue – where prologued collective stress has worn down our physical and mental resources causing lapses in willpower (needed to override bad habits or delay gratification) and bringing unexpected brain fog where memory lapses and decision-making skills are unreliable.  Our mind can crave familiar, the old normal.  But if scientists and sociologists are correct (and a count of “For Lease” signs on 2nd street in my city would suggest they are indeed correct), we will never go back to the old normal.  As I face into this reality, I’m asking myself – what might help me find a new normal where more of the collective is considered – the “us” becoming equally important to “I,” where more calm resides inside myself and where the love of Jesus is abundant.  After all, I’m a vessel of His love – the pandemic hasn’t altered this truth. 

I’ve made practical changes – shutting down shopping escapism with restrictions like purchasing only six items this year in my wardrobe and all must be from ethically and environmentally sustainable sources and all online purchases one day a month – helping me bank willpower and money that can be donated for important causes.

Seasons of rest and rejuvenation, including pruning (which is assessing what needs to be cut back) is biblical.  Jesus had a three mile an hour pace.  He walked everywhere.  He also didn’t heal everyone in the villages he visited even though he could have.  I’m not sure why the United States version of Christianity so often includes busy schedules, productivity, accumulating more – of anything, and how that lifestyle can cultivate anything but loving people.  What rest are you being called to?  Make practical changes – I’ve scheduled an hour more sleep each night since the pandemic began in order to process the increased stress.  I also have a rhythm of a Sabbath every week.  What brings you more joy and laughter and how can you cultivate more of that?

Regarding changes in our church services, I recently heard Jeremy Riddle, a worship leader at the Anaheim Vineyard, reframe the restriction of no singing indoors.  He told a story of Iranian Christians, part of the underground church, who praise God in silence every time they gather because they can be killed for worshipping Jesus.  He spoke of practicing body and heart in silence as a way to not only connect with underground Christians around the world but also to open us up to what God might be drawing us to in this silence.  What a reframe and invitation!  How can God use this silence to change us, to create something new inside of ourselves?  Can we create an interior silence that is singularly focused on praising God during worship rather than allowing words to mindlessly pass through our lips as our minds wander off on our own thoughts rather than intentional praises?  Reframes and trusting God, causes me to contemplate, what else in my life needs reframing?  Where’s my mind grumbling and judging some situation that could be a gift from God?

The pandemic is a perfect opportunity to build in self-awareness around living in the present, the only place we can feel fully alive.  Meditating or some other practice of quieting the mind assists in becoming more aware of these things.  How are you showing up?  What keeps you up at night and how do you let it go?  How can you be more present even when you’re relaxing?  When you watch shows, is it mindless or can you feel yourself enjoying the entertainment?  Are you really feeling yourself laugh or is the belly movement and sounds of laughter passing you by so you aren’t feeling truly rejuvenated?  So often we can make activities bad or good in our minds.  However, I want to argue it’s how we show up to our activities that determines their value.  Playing games with your family is a lovely way to bond unless you’re thinking of closing an important sale.  Then, you’re going through the motions, distracted, and only a body rather than a person who’s paying attention, engaging and contributing to the environment of making your family members feel safe and seen.

How can this pandemic mark the year that you truly became more like Jesus?  How can you live your life in a manner that others are drawn to you not for your celebrity status or material generosity but because you make others feel safe?  How can this year truly mark an interior surrender that claims, “Not my will, but your will be done, Lord?”

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