It’s Monday, I’m two cups of coffee in, and I’m working from home…again. The desk that I haphazardly assembled (without reading the instructions, of course) is just crooked enough to allow my pen to roll onto the floor…again. My zoom link isn’t working, and my phone lights up with the notification of yet another cancelled event. I remind myself to breathe…again.
We’ve all experienced seasons of disorder and discontentment, and we’ve all felt lonely for a time or two—but when has it ever been quite like this? When was there ever a time of such unanimous uncertainty and dissatisfaction? When I survey my Facebook timeline, it seems that we are all experiencing the same anxieties over the same global crisis, and in many cases, there’s the same silver lining:
“This is really hard, but I’m grateful to have extra family time.”
That is a beautiful sentiment, and I can appreciate that, for many, the pandemic has opened doors for family meals, work breaks with the kids, and long weekends with in-laws that wouldn’t have been possible in a pre-COVID world. That is all wonderful, but this single twenty-four year old living three hundred miles away from her family is not soaking up the joys of ‘extra family time.’
Nope, I haven’t been baking bread with my parents or exploring new mountain trails with my children. My siblings and I have not had weekly movie nights, and there haven’t been any mid-day breaks filled with laughter and memory making.
Instead, I have had to learn to navigate my own feelings of loneliness in the midst of a global crisis. I have had to reconcile that this particular loneliness is not a fleeting feeling that can be solved by a coffee date with a friend or a phone call with family. Instead, this has been a months-long journey through agonizing and unrelenting isolation. It has been uncomfortable at times. Frankly, it’s been miserable, but I have learned a few things in the middle of this mystery.
If you’ve ever hydroplaned in a vehicle without four-wheel drive, you may be familiar with the feeling of absolute, unadulterated panic. One of the first driving lessons I learned: when you lose control, resist the temptation to make sudden movements to accelerate, stop, or change direction. Yet, there I was, a month into a global crisis frantically grasping at the illusion of control and doing my very best to move forward—without taking a moment to pause and evaluate what was actually happening. In an already frightening and chaotic time, I got lost in a spiral of anxiety and panic, and I wound up (you guessed it) feeling isolated… and even embarrassed. I’ve learned that it is much less lonely to simply embrace this mess and the truth that we are all in this together. (cue the High School Musical soundtrack…) I’ve learned to embrace the chaos and lean into the twists and turns, just like they teach in Driver’s Ed.
“I need you to remind me that I’m not a failure.”
– me, actually speaking these words just last week.
Alright, I know that I was just singing, “We’re all in this together,”—and I meant it. Still, the truth is that we don’t all experience the same stage of grief at the same time or in the same degree. When we feel isolated, we can begin to believe lies about ourselves and our value. To combat this, I must be willing to be vulnerable with people I trust and allow them to quiet the lies. I must be willing to get real about the false narrative in my head and allow trusted friends to speak the truth to me. In other words, we expose the narrative together.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)
I’ve returned to this scripture a lot, because the information overload we’re navigating has led me to thinking and feeling many things that are certainly not lovely, admirable, or even true. I’ve learned to remind myself that the source of truth is found in the Bible—not in the news or on social media, and that learning to embrace truth is the best way to keep my feelings of loneliness from running the show.
Speaking of social media and its many voices, let me just say—it’s not all bad. Naturally, I follow, like, and subscribe to voices that sound a lot like my own. In a space filled with new and ever-changing information and differing perspectives, I find comfort in my silo of self-reassurance. But, as I scroll across this canvas of my own making, seeking to find community, I actually find myself feeling more isolated from the world around me. You see, for the virtual world to reflect the real world I’m missing, it must have the same diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks that the ‘real world’ does. If I choose to fill my virtual world with only people who think, sound, or look like me, I haven’t created a community. I’ve created an echo chamber. I must expand my outlook.
While it has become vitally important to rest and preserve healthy habits that effectuate some semblance of sanity, I’ve found that simply aiming to maintain a balanced lifestyle is not enough. Instead, I had to stop cherishing routine and explore new territory.
I’ve never had a passion for traveling, but I have always enjoyed tackling new frontiers in life. Whether it’s a work project, moving to a new town, or trying a funky recipe, I will jump in head first and give 100% of my energy to anything new.
Still, one of the most classic symptoms of a depressive episode is withdrawal from activity. In other words, when I experience sadness and lethargy because I’m withdrawn from others, I am also more likely to withdraw from trying new things. So whether it’s been reading books by unfamiliar authors, learning new skills, or getting creative in the kitchen, I’ve found value in trying new things that bring fun and energy into my life—learning to explore new territory.
While it can be overwhelming to try to tackle loneliness and isolation during this season, what I’m learning is that there are still opportunities to find joy, fulfillment, and peace. While we weren’t given a guidebook for how to thrive during a pandemic, those of us who follow Jesus were given this instruction and assurance:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
If I truly believe in the promise of comfort and peace that God offers, why am I so scared of being lonely for a season? I find myself wondering what it would look like for me to accept the invitation to live a life led by faith, and not by the disruption that I see in the world. I’ve come to know that if I honestly believe that I serve a God who’s already overcome the world and its chaos, I would trust that He loves me enough to meet me in isolation; He will help me do the work that it takes to stand back up when I’ve had enough.