Coming Home: An Invitation from the Pandemic

Thirteen months ago our non-stop world came to a screeching halt.  Instead of hurrying about our normal lives we were suddenly hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer and stockpiling dried beans.  The goals, activities and realities of life were just…canceled.

Time changed. The kids didn’t need to be up by a certain time in order to be out the door and waiting for the bus. Lunches didn’t have to be made the night before. There was an avalanche of phone calls, text messages, and emails announcing that our appointments with the doctor/dentist/chiropractor/hair stylist were canceled. Those events we had been looking forward to (or dreading) like weddings, birthday parties, vacations, concerts were postponed, postponed again, and then…

We found ourselves constructing new, make-shift lives on screens and behind masks. It was weird. On the phone and Facetime and Zoom and social media we compared notes on just how weird it was. Like a collective improv show, we set about trying to create new routines. We looked for stuff to do. We doom scrolled.

A few weeks into the pandemic a friend provided a helpful lens.  An American who’d lived and worked abroad, he said,

“When you go to another place for a short time you’re a tourist, a bit longer and you’re a temporary resident. If you stay long-term in a place that’s not native to you, you’re an expat, or permanently, you’re an immigrant.  In all of these scenarios, every day you are waking up, walking around, living, relating, figuring out money, food, time, and rules for interacting in a culture other than your native culture. It’s exhausting. Everything takes work. Everything involves translation, reading the situation, trying to figure out if you’re doing it correctly. Everything is a negotiation.”

We are all in a different culture: COVID Culture, Pandemic World.  This place we’re inhabiting is not a stable, steady culture that gets easier to adjust to as we become more familiar with it.  It’s constantly shifting and changing. Just when we start to figure out how to live here, the rules change, the expectations change, and here comes more negotiating.

So for thirteen months, our poor selves have been constantly buffering; we’re walking around with “the spinning wheel of death” on our screens.  We may not be accomplishing a whole lot, but our battery is draining precipitously.  And while we’re constantly adapting, the exhaustion is compounding.

We didn’t choose to go on this trip. And we’re all desperate to go home. But where we go after this will not be home. It will feel a bit like home, but also uncomfortably different. While we’ve been here work and life were radically disrupted and altered: our country plunged into a long overdue and deeply painful national racial reckoning; over half a million of our loved ones have died of COVID, (and nearly 3 million of our global siblings), not to mention all those people who died of other things, or moved away from neighborhoods, or lost their jobs. Favorite restaurants are gone, favorite shops have closed down, and patterns of activity we relied on can hardly even be remembered. A lot of what made home home is no longer there. We’ve had to adapt to things we didn’t choose, to settle into a life we never intended to be living.  And it’s been a life of waiting, of killing time, of biding time, of resenting the passing of time. We are time-sick.

When we “go back,” it won’t be back, it will be forward into something new and different, a new home. It will take imagination, energy, and stamina.  And we are going to feel pressure to go harder than ever, to make up for lost time.

Even though we are exhausted, it will be more difficult than ever to rest. We will think we don’t deserve it. We will assume we’ve just spent a year “resting,” for Pete’s sake!  So we had better get out there and get going!  How dare we stop, how dare we play? How dare we say “No” to the invitation or experience we’ve been waiting for, or refuse the person or opportunity that has been waiting for us?  How dare we waste time or squander energy on anything other than making up for lost time fixing what’s broken in the world?

Jesus says,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

(Mt. 11:28)

The Bible often uses “the rest of God” as a synonym for “salvation.” Rest is what being saved feels like. Rest is being saved. Rest is returning to our deepest, most vulnerable selves, made in the image of a God who rests and who wove rest into the fabric of creation.  Rest is how we come back to our belonging to God and each other, it’s how we remember our own humanity and everyone else’s. Rest is returning to our true home.

God tells us to once a week power it all down, unplug and turn it off.  One day each week where we don’t seek anything, perform anything, produce anything, or prove anything. Just accept being accepted, receive God’s grace.  Sabbath is one day a week of practicing trust, trust that this world is held in God’s love. And God has to tell us to do it because left to our own devices, we wouldn’t rest. It’s a waste of time, we tell ourselves. Rest is earned, or claimed only by those who are sick, or selfish, or simply too exhausted to go on. So on we go, relentlessly, wearily, desperately.

But more important than our doing is our being. So to remember what is true, Sabbath says, we need to rest.  Rest lets us feel time, be in time, and be met by the One who is outside of time.  Rest brings us home.

Our relationship with time is so fraught. And yet, what if time were just one way to understand the gift that is life? What if we measured our days by presence instead of pressure?

For thirteen months we have been living as temporary residents in COVID World.  It has made us weary and wary, and it also has taught us some things and given us some unexpected gifts.  As we stamp our passports and set out to relocate our whole lives to the unmapped land called Post-Pandemic, what lessons have we gleaned? What souvenirs will we choose to carry with us? What will shape our lives going forward?

This week we will be joining the retreat center for a workshop, Navigating Post-Pandemic Unknowns. Together we will explore how to shape our lives in a way that relishes abundance instead of grasping at scarcity.  As the restrictions from the pandemic lift, and life opens up again, maybe we can take this opportunity to rethink our relationship to time. Rather than trying to maximize time, we might chose to incorporate regular, preemptive, protected rest into our lives. We might begin to recognize time as the place we are met by God and held in love, rather than as a perpetually limited commodity that is either spent or wasted.  We may learn how to come home.

Rev. Kara K. Root and Rev. Lisa Larges serve together as pastor and parish associate of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church (Minneapolis, MN), a community known for its creative practices of hospitality and Sabbath-keeping. Kara also is the author of the forthcoming book, The Deepest Belonging: A Story about Discovering Where God Meets Us (Fortress Press, 2021). Lisa also works at the MN State Services for the Blind and is the former director of That All May Freely Serve.


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