I could hear the conversation from where I stood, waiting in the check-out line at TJ Maxx. The customer went on and on about masks. How they suffocate. How they create a carbon dioxide problem. How awful they are for kids. On and on. My defenses rose, and the conversation rehearsal in my head kicked into overdrive, defending the use of my mask.
But I caught myself, realizing my rehearsals served no real purpose and resulted only in raising my stress. The woman hadn’t seen me. She didn’t know my circumstances anymore than I knew hers. She didn’t even know I stood at a distance wearing a mask. I didn’t need to get so worked up.
Just as I was (finally) going to God about it all, wondering at the mystery of how we’re all created so differently, I heard the woman say with a sense of relief, “But, really, I’m just so glad not to have to wear those masks anymore.” I heard her heart. I witnessed her shoulders relax as she confessed her deeper, truer feelings. I could see she felt free.
My own posture softened. My breathing slowed. And I giggled as I grasped that I was living out the reentry paradox: emotions war within us and around us because each of our pandemic experiences varied and so will our reentries. Every person’s feelings will influence how they reenter post-pandemic life.
And I realized once again just how much grace we’ll need for all the feelings of reentry.
Grace for the Emotions
We’ll be better able and more willing to grab hold of the grace God offers when we acknowledge all the emotions of the reentry paradox. For instance, impatience with ourselves, others, and the world can coexist with the joy we have of being with people and doing “life” again. Frustration with the pace of life can, in the same breath, be a battle between our desire for life to speed up and our wish to keep things simpler. The temptation to compare our own reentry with others’ can trigger both judgment and jealousy.
Our emotions live in very real tensions. In a flash we can jump from discouragement to destructive fury, from despair to debilitating fear. If we live unaware of the battles raging within us, the battleground shifts — to around us. And, so. We see our need for grace.
Wherever we find ourselves at this threshold of pandemic reentry, we can pause and acknowledge the grace we need to step back into life well. Being aware of our emotions is a great place to begin.
Whenever I watch someone scuba dive, I love watching them sit on the side of the boat and do that nonchalant backwards flip into the water. What I’m only recently discovering, however, is that their epic entry only happens after they’ve gone through intensive training and have completed a thorough check of their equipment. That fascinating flip only happens after they have made sure they are fit for diving that day.
How about us? How can we check ourselves each day to be sure we’re fit for living life outside the walls of our house?
Like the scuba diver, we can do an equipment check to be sure everything is in working condition before diving in. We can do an all-systems check.
- What’s our anxiety level — Are we willing to take things a bit slower to give ourselves a chance to reacclimate?
- What’s our impatience level — Are we anticipating the slower moving people we’ll encounter? Are we prepping our responses for the mask-wearers and not-wearers we’ll see?
- What’s our excitement level — Are we prepared to be flexible when life doesn’t meet our expectations?
- What’s our compassion level — Are we ready to acknowledge that a lot of people have faced tragedy and trauma over the last year?
The list could go on. The idea, though, is to simply do a self-check, being aware of our tendencies and feelings before we swim out to deeper waters. Awareness is a huge step toward preparedness!
Perhaps it feels a bit corny, unlikely, or even too time consuming to pause each day to do an “equipment check” before we leave the house, but if we keep thinking about the scuba diver, it’ll help us grasp the gravity of the situation.
What happens if a scuba diver’s tank fails to provide oxygen while in the depths of the ocean? No air — that tank means life or death.
As believers, grace is our oxygen. If we have any hope of exploring the depths of society, our tanks needs to be full of grace. Without grace, we have no power for patience, no ability for humility, no capacity for kindness, no strength for sustaining the love we desire to express and offer to the world. Not without grace.
Paul reminds us that Jesus told us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). But if we haven’t stopped for grace before we do the deep dive into life, we enter each moment of our day choking on pride and fear and anger, unable to say or do anything remotely like Jesus. No matter our weaknesses, God’s grace is sufficient when we fill our tanks and put on our masks to breathe in the power that grace offers.
Filling our tanks requires consistent time with God, in the Word, and doing plenty of self-checks, making sure our “equipment” is ready for use. Memorizing verses is a great way to keep our grace tanks full. Scriptures speak to our specific weaknesses and can become the grace-fuel that keeps us from spiraling inward and spewing outward.
How fit are you for reentry today?
Friends, each of our reentries comes with a load of emotions — some based on personality, others on experiences. And those emotions are often at odds within us. So as we face reentry, we neither want to hide in our houses nor bulldoze our way through town. We want to live life aware — of our feelings and weaknesses — because our knowing makes us open to the compassion and patience and courage we need to reenter life as Jesus would. And God’s grace makes it possible.
- One of the best ways to overcome self-focused feelings like impatience and anxiety is to spread joy to others. So, as you step into the world, intentionally bring with you the joy of the Lord and share it.
- One idea for this week’s #SpreadJoy — reach out to someone who needs grace and/or joy through a text, call, or an invitation to coffee. Go, spread joy!
- One of the songs on our Reentry Playlist, “Hallelujah Even Here,” captures an frequent emotional truth, “I don’t feel like it is well with my soul.” Because most of us battle the tension of feelings that comes with the reentry paradox, we can follow Lydia Laird’s lead, giving praise to God no matter where we find ourselves or how we feel: “Hallelujah, when the storm is relentless. Hallelujah, when the battle is endless. In the middle of the in between. In the middle of the questioning. Over every worry, every fear. Hallelujah, even here.”
- Today in your journal, take some time to list, doodle, draw, or write about everything you feel as you are about to or continue to reenter the world. Mixed feelings? Strong feelings? Primary/hidden feelings laying under the secondary/showing feelings? Acknowledge your emotions and surrender them to God, grabbing hold of that oxygen tank full of grace as you do.
- We will meet back here in two weeks! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.