After the Plague

A little over two years ago the Prime Minister got on our TV screens and told us we had to stay at home. We crashed into our first lockdown that we all thought would last a few months and then slowly began to realise was a two-year waking nightmare.

If you don’t live in the UK your experiences of the details of this were likely to be a little different, but the broad thrust of the emotions will be the same.

I remember early on making semi-serious jokes about plagues historically tending to last for around two years. Though most often that would be, as I understand it, because they had burned themselves out by killing a substantial number of people.

In the UK Covid-19 is officially over and has been since mid-March. Or, more accurately we’ve been told that the new phase is about adapting to living with the plague. Whether you think that was a reasonable move probably reveals a fair bit about your political commitments, but it’s where we find ourselves, for now at least.

The major tone from people I know is one of relief. People are glad it’s all over. We’re beginning to reflect on what those couple of years taught us or cost us.

Churches are taking stock. Some, while it was painful, have weathered the pandemic well. I know a church that has grown in attendance and whose giving has gone up. They would say—I think, I may be putting words in their mouths—that they have thrived through the pandemic.

Many churches, perhaps most, have not faired so well. Today I read an account from a pastor I know of his church closing, largely due to the last few years of lockdowns. He was gracious and godly rather than bitter, but it has been bruising, and he was acknowledging it as such.

The thing is, I think those of us who have largely weathered the pandemic ‘well’—and I could include myself in this—have missed a key reality that those who have struggled have witnessed up close in all its brutality.

None of us have thrived

I understand why some might want to say we’ve thrived, and perhaps some key metrics are looking healthy, but that just exposes some of the problems with metrics. Under the surface none of us are doing as well as we think.

We’ve been through what I think we can only describe as a collective trauma; it only doesn’t feel like one because it’s happened to everyone. It has shaped us in ways that it might take years for us to each grapple with. Some of those things will be beneficial, some will not be. Discerning the difference will require time and work.

There’s been a lot of talk about going back to normality, which I’m all for, but pastorally we need to be wary that we aren’t just storing up trouble for tomorrow. Everyone is hurting, and lots of people don’t know they are. It’s the ones who don’t know they are that I’m more worried about.

The main way I’m noticing this in my life and the lives of those I know is in our relationships with each other. They’re fractured and frayed. Which is unsurprising, the nature of the trauma we’ve been through was separation. We were separated from one another, and that has left marks on us.

What we often forget is that relationships take longer to build than they do to break. Which means it will take longer than the periods we were separated for those to rebuild, and it will take concerted effort.

Yet, we don’t talk about it. I’m sure some of that is a British concern that doing so would seem to be suggesting that the Lockdown were a bad thing, and that would be generally letting the side down. Or, worse, siding with the cranks on the internet who think the whole thing was made up.

Whether or not we think Lockdowns were necessary, we must admit that they were terrible for us. We were splintered into atomised ‘households’ and ‘bubbles,’ divided one from another. We were, in essence, devolved into capitalist consumer units that plug in at the dining room table to work and plug in to the TV and then our beds to recharge.

Everything but our closest friendships shattered, and we’ve forgotten how to regain them in a culture that was already suffering greatly from the demise of friendship.

Honestly, in part it’s the apocalyptic nature of plagues at work here, it’s unveiled a whole host of things that were present under the surface.

So, what can we do?

Talk about it

If we tell people, in conversations and from pulpits, what’s going on and provide them with some sense of why they’re feeling alienation and seeing relationships break under the strain, they’ll realise that they aren’t crazy.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the average pastor is going to know how to help people through the more acute versions of these problems, but identifying the issue is always the first step.

Teach friendship

Teach the importance of friendship, teach how to make friends, provide contexts to help where we can, and ensure that we are investing time and energy in our friendships.

Be gracious

Are some your relationships harder than they should be? This is probably part of the problem. It may be that the pandemic has only unveiled problems that existed already, it may be that it’s caused them. Either way, everyone is very emotionally drained. Try to be as gracious as you’re able to be.

Breathe, don’t rush

Rushing would be the worst thing here. Name things. Point them out. Begin to work on them as appropriate. Take your time over it. Jesus is never in a hurry.

This might sound apocalyptic, and in the literal sense that’s my intent: the pandemic tore back the veil on our cultures and our hearts, but this is where we find ourselves. It’s always important to name something rather than ignore it. The divisions created by naming are creative (Genesis 1) and gift us the life and epistemic space to see, to think, and to move forward.

If we had to boil down my message to one very short sentence? Friends, it’s not just you.

Photo by Jacek Pobłocki on Unsplash

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