Holding Both in Tension

We're a month in to the social distancing mandate due to the threat of COVID-19, and I don't have something particularly original to share. But even though my takeaways are expressed in similar formats, perhaps they're worth repeating:

You're allowed to be grateful and feel _________ (insert frustrated, disappointed, afraid, sad) on the same day. Sometimes at the same time.

This past Saturday was heavier for me, and seemingly small things were shaking me more than usual. Much of my concerns had to do with my last trip to the grocery store and wondering if I'd effectively disinfected everything enough. I didn't take my mask off slowly enough and had lots of "what ifs" crossing my mind. These new measures take a little getting used to, don't they?

I really wanted to break outdoors and run to offset my unrest, but was coming across articles that made me doubt that seemingly healthy activity. Was six feet apart really enough of a distance? How long did particles really last in the air, and was this another avenue of infection? Yeah, I'm on the cautious side. My 11 year old son has allergenic asthma, and it's so not fun to see him struggle with his breathing.

Since Saturday was a beautiful, sun-filled day and too many neighbors were outdoors, I decided to drive to my parents' less dense neighborhood and revisit the trail I ran growing up. And while I was grateful to find a solution, I was sad that I couldn't go in my parents' house. But happy that I'd found an outlet and was able to stand far apart on the top deck to see them and their dog before heading out for my run.

So many of us don't allow ourselves to hold two emotions in tension. We listen to the voice of self condemnation and fault finding even when it doesn't serve us. I think we would rather make our responses black or white since we have false sense of control when we can name something. But we don't help ourselves grow when we try to stifle our emotions, telling ourselves we don't deserve to feel them at all.

A few years ago I started at-home kickboxing with Chalene Johnson (Beachbody), and one of the reasons I kept returning to her program is because of her positive energy. "Good news. Good news," she says, smiling after a fire drill (60 second burst of hard aerobic exercise) "you're not tired." As much as I looked forward to the upbeat set and the sweat-inducing moves, I came to appreciate her positive self-talk ("I have faith in you!) that makes you feel on top of the world. And even though she is a silver lining thinker and motivator, her post yesterday said, "having negative feelings does not make you negative. It makes you human."

Even if we're all in this pandemic together, we come at it from different walks of life. It's too simple when we try to classify someone's unique set of challenges (or blessings) without knowing the particulars: "so and so still has his job, so he has no reason to be upset." We don't necessarily know if that person has a child with special needs, if there's tension in his marriage, or if that individual has an underlying health condition that makes it hard for him to even risk going to the store. We don't always know. I'm learning that it's best to give more grace when someone responds differently than we would. And it's best to give ourselves more understanding too, refusing to shrink ourselves to "musts" and "shoulds."

When have those ever served us?

As we face this uncertain time, many of us will bump against numerous emotions. Feeling something we don't want to experience does not mean that we're failing or "less" than the person who seems to flourish with their elaborate accomplishments. It's admittedly taking me a long minute to start my next novel, and it's tempting to compare myself to people who are producing on the regular. This doesn't necessarily help either. After homeschooling is over, I turn my mind to research, and some days I accomplish more than others. We are just as worthy on the days that we finish much as on the days we don't.

I'm reminded to practice gratitude more. We have a measure of control with where we turn our attention, and I want to fix my eyes on what gifts I've been given. I also want to turn my attention to those who are hurting right now and might need extra support. I believe God uses us as vessels to speak and assist in others' lives and that there are opportunities all around us to validate and uplift people. We don't have to be on the frontlines (doctors or nurses) to make a difference. Perhaps we can even start by admitting our own perceived weaknesses to navigate an uncommon time with those who could use an encouraging word. "I see you./ You're doing a good job./ Yeah, you might be frustrated, but you keep putting one foot in front of the other."


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