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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Finding a new normal during a global pandemic


‘God designed our bodies with the need to express and process loss’

November 20, 2020

The Smith-Mather family at the University of Oxford, where Shelvis has been studying. (Contributed photo)

On the surface, things seemed calm. Professors came and left every two weeks, teaching courses to adult South Sudanese students on various aspects of peacebuilding. The students sang together during morning devotions, laughed while acting out dramas in class, and played boisterous volleyball matches before dinner. The staff enjoyed the liveliness of a campus brimming with activity. Yet underneath, we were all aware of the country’s instability. At any time, a spark might fly, igniting a rapidly spreading flame of violence.

While our family lived at the RECONCILE training center in Yei, South Sudan, we kept a bag we could grab quickly with our essential items: passports, some money, some food and water, etc. When our second child joined us, we added to the list of essentials another baby carrier, so both kids could easily be strapped on our backs while potentially escaping through the woods.

If you stay in a state of hypervigilance long enough, it starts to feel normal. That is the sad reality for many of our South Sudanese friends, and to a more limited extent, it slowly became ours. When we traveled away from Yei and felt our bodies instinctively exhale, we remembered that life with constant fear of war is far from normal — it is traumatizing.

In the U.S. right now, there is widespread loss. For some, it is the unexpected death of a loved one. Mourning the loved one is further complicated by the inability to be present during his/her final days or hours. Others have lost their jobs and feel helpless to provide for their families. Many feel the loss of a sense of security, unaware if leaving home might lead to contracting or spreading a potentially deadly virus.

We can even grieve the loss of a hope or an expectation. Due to the pandemic, many missed key events like prom, graduations, annual family gatherings, weddings or the birth of a grandchild. Some losses are traumatic, and some are not, yet all need to be grieved.

Some of us may also be experiencing secondary trauma from watching or reading a steady flow of heartbreaking stories night after night.

Now is a good time for people in the U.S. and around the world to find a good listener and to be good listeners. Seek out someone who can listen to you without the need to fix your problem, to give advice or to diminish your struggle through comparison. Avoid calling upon friends who feel Christians should never be sad, a sentiment that is not consistent with the breadth of Scripture. Find someone who makes you feel safe, heard and understood. It may be through a phone conversation, a discussion across a social distance or even a small group Zoom call. Sometimes Shelvis and I talk with a friend and sometimes a professional counselor. While it may look different for each of us, during this unique season, let’s try to ask for and offer the healing gift of listening.

In addition to contacting a good listener, find ways to care for your mind, body and soul. For some there may be a need for regular exercise or a favorite hobby. Try to eat healthy and get enough sleep. Take time to journal, reflect, have a personal devotion and pray. Writing a lament to God, expressing your anger, pain, frustration and confusion as well as your trust in God in the midst of this trial can bring a sense of peace. Crying is a great way to let out pain. Do what you need to feel more like you again. Even when free time is limited, taking 10 to 15 minutes a day for self-care can make a difference.

During this pandemic, we have an opportunity to learn a bit more, as a nation and as a global community, about trauma, grief and healing. God designed our bodies with the need to express and process loss. If we keep it locked inside, it hurts us and often our relationships with others. Helping each other grieve well is a transformative ministry. When that healing miracle happens, we are often stronger than before, equipped with greater resilience and better able to help our neighbor.

 Nancy Smith-Mather, Special to the Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  The New Normal

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shawnda Styles, Presbyterian Foundation
Ralph Su, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

God who knows the wounds in our heart, please give us the courage to face our own painful emotions, to acknowledge, validate and understand them. Help us take intentional steps toward healing. Once we have made progress on our own journey, please grant us the compassion and strength to help others do the same. Amen.