More thoughts on adapting to the “new normal” in a COVID-19 world.
Published on: 07-28-2020
You can read the first part of this discussion here.—Editors
What are we made for while we are on this planet and in the midst of the pandemic? Psychiatrists and neuroscientists Bessel van der Kolk and Daniel Siegel offer several helpful recommendations that I will adapt here through our biblical worldview.
We are made to form and nurture close relationships. You may consider, therefore, creating “social bubbles” with friends and family you trust and know are all COVID-19 negative.
Recently we had dinner with a lovely couple we had never met before but came to know through mutual family. We showed up at their doorstep with faces covered and keeping physical distance. We all quickly disclosed we were “negative.” So, while we took off our masks, we kept a healthy distance and no handshakes or hugs. We made our best effort to show them how much we enjoyed their warmth, but that was it.
FaceTime and video conference are not the same experience as real face-to-face, I know. I use video conference to do my work every day. As a psychotherapist, I do not quite see all the nuances of emotional expression in people. Still, on video I do pick up other features that are usually drowned out in the immediacy of the confines of my office.
Our small Sabbath School class started using video conferencing recently. And it is tempting (and mostly good) to watch the more articulate preachers online instead of your “good enough” pastor. But familiarity and keeping as much of a routine will help us in ways that may be difficult to discern immediately.
Stimulating Your Brain
Van der Kolk reminds us that our brain is more than the organ of reason or social and emotional connection. It also regulates basic processes such as hunger and sleep. Keeping such things regular will translate into a sense of predictability that will help us adapt.
Our brains also need healthy stimulation and physical activity. Knitting, cooking, and walking (particularly in nature) will reinvigorate us.
The “basement” or subcortical areas of the brain need movement, rhythms, sound (listen to music and sing) as your visceral relationship with your own experience benefits from these kinds of activities as well.
For instance, my “new” Sabbaths tend to go like this: I start by reading a book to learn about the history of the Adventist Church in South America. Attention and concentration are heightened as I am interested, relate to the content, and find inspiration in our spiritual forefathers’ experience.
Then, my wife and I watch a sermon online and join the singing during the pre-recorded services shown on the Hope Channel. Then we connect to our Sabbath School class through video conference, and, in the afternoon, close to sunset, I love to go to my backyard and listen to music as I observe the various tonalities that the trees take as the sun retires (I highly recommend this).
Taking “Time In”
Siegel adds a few essentials. Take “time in,” he counsels — that is, time to reflect and meditate. These are two practices I am trying to continue to nurture.
I mean meditating on the Word of God, letting it speak to me as opposed to subjecting it to my own analysis. I am reading a fascinating paraphrase of the book of Job. If you are a counselor, it should be required for you to read, re-read, and re-read it. It just blows your mind. A brief moment of reflection involves seeking to see God in my day. Was I aware of His presence? Did I make room for the Lord to be among my thoughts and my activities?
Siegel also adds “play time” and “physical time,” which I primarily do with Nina, our dog. She loves to play! We take our routine walk together even under the fiery sun of Southern California. When I “close the office,” that is, turn off video conferencing and the computer, we get out and walk through the neighborhood, which is usually all to ourselves.
The “Real Normal”
But is this all we are made for? Augustine found beautiful words to answer this question: “You have made us for Yourself, and restless is the heart until it finds rest in You.”
You were not made for fear. You were not made for “social” distancing. You were not made to live in lockdown. You were not made to see family through a video conference. But neither were you made for yourself. We are made for God. We are wired to keep the commandments, that is, “to love God with all your mind and with all your strength” as you “love your neighbor as yourself.” These are the essentials of what our “real normal” is, for now, “through a glass darkly,” and in its fullness in heaven as we were made to be.
Shortly after our immigration to the United States, my wife and I felt assaulted by a reality for which we were not prepared. Poor and homesick, we were in bad shape. My wife was preparing to take her medical boards at the time. We decided that if she passed them, we would stay, and if she did not, we would go back home. This decision alone gave us a sense that there was a way through and beyond our discouragement. It gave us a sense of hope.
In the midst of this pandemic, there is a way through. Not a perfect one, but one that can give you hope. Know and nurture what you are made for and keep the faith.
Even if we adapt reasonably well to the pandemic, “we are not made for this.” We are made for eternity!