(Navigating disappointments during a pandemic)
Not since the 1940’s and World War 2 has the world shared such a prolonged common experience. (See, I knew studying history in university would pay off eventually!) The singularly focused news cycle we have been experiencing over the past two months has been extraordinary and it has gotten to the point where I think we start to wonder if anything else is happening in the world.
Everything is COVID-19 focused. The list is pretty much endless; global infection rates, closed borders, government handouts, at-home schooling, and even church online. There is not one area of our life that hasn’t been affected. Having to lead during this unique time is full of its own challenges but one which I have actually enjoyed. It is easy to lead when I work with some amazing leaders and lead a remarkable church full of compassionate and generous people. But recently as I have been reflecting on the past couple of months, I have realized that there is one outcome of the pandemic that has affected me more than any other – trying to deal with disappointments. My sneaking suspicion is that I am not the only one wrestling with the emotions that disappointments cause.
Everyone has been forced to give up routines they enjoy, or have had to miss out on events that they were looking forward to experiencing because of this pandemic. But as I examined my own life, I realized that not all the disappointments I was experiencing were equal. I have noticed 3 different types of disappointments and each type has impacted me differently.
There are the simple disappointments that cause short term frustration. These minor inconveniences are unpleasant in the moment but because it is a temporary sacrifice there isn’t lasting emotional baggage to deal with. Not being able to see your mom on mother’s day, or needing to change the dates of your summer vacation, or not being able to gather together on a Sunday morning are bearable because you know that at some point things will get back to normal and you will be able to hug your mom whenever you want. Life sucks in the moment but you know you will get over it.
Then there are the trips you have been planning for some time being cancelled (mission’s trips!) or significant anniversaries being celebrated with very little fanfare. These are more of a kick to the gut. You feel like the 5 year old who has just been told his Disneyland trip has been cancelled and you just want to bury your head in your pillow and cry. Pam and I, along with thirty other people were supposed to be in Egypt and Israel during the beginning of May. Two years of planning gone in an instant. No pyramids, no camel rides up Mt Sinai, no swimming in the Dead Sea, no boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, no walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem, no amazing food, no moments of spiritual insight. (Should I add more or do you get the picture that I was really, really looking forward to this experience?) These disappointments are centered on the memories you will never get to make and the pictures you can never look back on. This is the disappointment of unrealized dreams. These are the ones that you will dwell on and mourn the loss of ‘what could have been’. These are harder to get over but with time and new experiences to focus on, the missed opportunities will fade from your memory.
The last type of disappointment is by far the hardest. These are the once in a lifetime moments that we missed because of COVID. These are the events where there are no ‘do-overs’. The weddings, the graduations, and the birth of children and grandchildren. My family has been double-whammied in this area. Our youngest daughter is graduating high school this year. Thirteen years of building up to what? Maybe walking across a stage with no audience and throwing her cap all by her lonesome. To say there is a lot of disappointment in our home would be an understatement. Layer on top of that the disappointment of not being able to meet my newest grandson, even though he was agonizingly close by in Children’s hospital for a couple of weeks. (Stupid COVID!) These are the moments that we can never get back. We cannot re-live them. Even though I will hopefully meet little Thomas at some point this summer, I will never get to hold him as a newborn. Even though I plan on seeing Kieryn walk across the stage to receive her university degree in nursing from TWU in four years (yeah Kieryn!), you can’t replace the rite of passage known as high school graduation. These disappointments are the ones that I have to grieve. We need to understand that we need to mourn these events because we will always remember their loss.
As I have been dealing with the myriad of disappointments over the past two months I have been reminded that in the midst of my disappointment God wants to hear how I am feeling. The bible encourages us to tell God how we are feeling (just read Psalm 6 or 13). If we are angry or sad or confused, God wants to hear from us. Job says “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11) Holding it in and not talking with God will not help us work through the emotions of disappointment. This is not something that comes easily to me. I am not one known for being expressive in my feelings. (I know that I have a feeling somewhere, I just usually can’t find it.) But when disappointments start piling up you need to deal with the feelings that they cause. Job held nothing back in his conversations with God and neither should we. This is a good reminder to go to God with how you are feeling because He will listen to you.