I am the fabled, unbridled optimist. For some reason, the sun always seems to be shining where I live. The grass appears green on both sides of the yard. The sky is perpetually blue. And the clouds have a relentless silver lining.
And yet, in full honesty, I’m feeling the loss.
It’s weird; I should feel fine, right? I haven’t lost a loved one, my job or my chance at an Olympic gold medal because of COVID-19. So, why do I feel the loss?
The loss I feel
I am feeling the loss of expression on everyone’s faces, now that the mask mandates have truly taken effect. I’m feeling the loss of nearness, now that even my close friends have been routinely socially distant. I’m feeling the loss of nonchalant shopping, without being directed by the not-so-subtle signs to sanitize my hands … again.
I truly wish these examples were all I’ve experienced, but there are so many more losses than these.
I’m feeling the loss of the 2020 graduation ceremonies for the recent graduates. I’m feeling the loss of once-common courtesies, like hearing “God bless you” after a sneeze, instead of hearing an unsettling silence followed by the shuffling of feet heading toward the exit.
I’m feeling the loss of traveling overseas. After all, we had to trade in our 15-year wedding anniversary trip for a stay-home order to shelter in place.
Some readers may think I’m just being a crybaby. And, maybe I am. But even for those of us who have not experienced extreme loss in this season of challenge, I think everyone is feeling a low-grade form of unprocessed anxiety.
Identifying and processing loss
We need to identify the losses we are feeling and process them in a healthy manner. We cannot make helpful modifications to our lives if we have not honestly come to grips with the specific areas of loss brought on by this pandemic.
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One meme I recently snickered at on social media read: “Please check on your extroverted friends. They are not OK!”
The losses we feel are not all the same, but we all, in some way, are experiencing loss. Hugs for some may be optional, but hugs for another may be essential.
Counting your blessings before counting your burdens is a wonderful joy-giving practice, but we may all, eternal optimists included, need to sit down and clear the air on what really is bothering us about COVID-19.
An Old Testament model
Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, modeled this practice of honest assessment when he wrote: “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Habakkuk was not unwilling to pinpoint challenges and face reality, but he ultimately recognizes God’s salvation as superior and chooses joy in the Divine instead of sadness in the situation.
It’s good news for us that Habakkuk’s, Jeremiah’s and the psalmists’ laments are included in the Bible. This tells us our laments are sacred, too, and are utterable to God. I encourage you to write down a list of your laments—the things generating anxiety and/or a sense of loss throughout these days, weeks and months. Then, ask God to sit with you as you tell God each one and how you feel about them.
Along with the psalmist of old, I ask: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
Biblically, the feelings of loss we are experiencing because of COVID-19 are, in the end, insufficient to withstand the gathering delight all who “hope in God” will experience one day in Jesus our Savior.
In this season of difficulty, let’s feel the loss and see the Savior.
Joshua Gilmore is the director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. The views expressed are those solely of the author.