What Did I Learn in the Pandemic? It's Too Soon To Tell.
This is Part Three of a Three-Part Series
I set out this week to write about what I learned about being an extrovert during two years of pandemic living, including myself, and I got terrible writer’s block. Because I learned quite a bit about myself in pandemic living, but I’m not sure what to do with that knowledge. Here are the bullet points: I need face-to-face time with people, but not: As often as I thought I did
With as many people at a time as I once did
With as broad of a social circle as I once had
In order to celebrate major milestones and holidays
And, so I find myself like a trapezist. I’ve let go of the first rope, and I’m hanging in mid-air, waiting for the second to land in my hands. I know I don’t want to go back to the social life I had, but I don’t know what these revelations point me to in the future. Can I get an "Amen"? I spoken to several friends, plus the men and women in a Bible study I just finished teaching, and we all agree: We want a new normal, but we don't know what it looks like. Here's a bit about my social journey: Two years and two days ago, the California governor ordered us to shelter in place. I now remember those first few weeks of the pandemic with great nostalgia. As a writer and speaker – I typically live in the extremes of being in front of a group of people being extremely vulnerable, or all alone in my house. My family sheltering in place meant that, for a time, I had more face-to-face time with humans than usual, not less. My kids attended online classes in their rooms; my husband set up his laptop on the kitchen table – and I achieved balance. I set up a folding table in my room, blogged, and re-worked a 50,000-word manuscript. And I also bustled around the house cleaning, doing laundry, reorganizing closets, prepping meals – all the things I usually do alone. Now I had an audience, and felt renewed purpose in being the person that kept our home comforting for everyone, as well as being energized by having their presence in the house. My husband and I discussed daily life and solved problems in real time, rather than having a data-dump at dinner every night. It wasn't sustainable (my kids did not benefit in the long-run from at-home school), but parts of it were blissful. And as for friends and family, well, here’s where it gets tricky. My extroverted nature helped me maintain friendships and brainstorm ways to engage (several studies showed this to be true of most extroverts, while the introverts struggled to keep up their connections, despite early predictions that they would “win at lockdown.” Here’s an interesting read on the subject: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210705-why-introverts-didnt-actually-win-lockdown). But I lost my taste for large gatherings. Even now, as it seems safe to "go back," my megachurch services suddenly seem too loud and “mega.” And it’s a little weird to admit this as someone who writes and teaches small group Bible studies, but I realized in the last two years that talking with a close friend about the Scripture is wonderfully stimulating, but I often leave small group Bible study feeling drained. It’s not the study, it’s the small-talk effort and the white noise of the other groups around me that wears me out. And this is also true of large family gatherings. One of my favorite Mother’s Day gatherings happened in May 2020. My mother is immunocompromised so we met outside. There was no crash and clatter in the kitchen, no interrupting each other’s conversations as we passed the rolls. We told stories one at a time. Everyone was seen and heard. Then my family of four went home and ate dinner on TV trays. Bliss.
I’ve spoken to many self-proclaimed extroverts that have said they discovered how much they like quiet and solitude over the last two years. They spoke about loving their homes, investing in their immediate families and paring down their calendars. I’ve talked to dozens of moms who loved having holidays in their pajamas and then visiting relatives one-by-one in small groups over the course of the holiday season. They are finding a smaller circle of friends and acquaintances to be more fulfilling and less stressful. I’ve also read and heard so many stories of pain. Families and friendships were torn apart by divisive issues, and lots of people, myself included, began to fear gatherings in which differences of opinion would turn into all-out conflicts. I feared Covid exposure at parties, but I feared acrimony just as much. I feel almost completely at ease over the first issue, the second, not so much. So again, it’s too soon to tell how I’m going to land on this issues, as it is with so many others. Have we learned truths about ourselves that help in a "new normal" or all we all just freaking traumatized? Stephan Pastis comic "Pearls Before Swine," above, speaks to this well. I think what is critical is to keep this conversation and reflection open, to not erase the lessons. As uncomfortable as it is to hang in mid-air, waiting for the next rope to swing on, it's also an incredible opportunity to remake our lives. Romans 12:2 is one of my favorite verses: "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." We have a great opportunity to be transformed in this moment, rethink our customs and relationships, and seek God's will. May we bear the discomfort and hold on for the lesson that He wants us to learn.