Surreal and Sad: Dealing with Sadness during COVID-19

By Ingrid Myers, Faith Bible Counselor

It’s been four weeks since “normal,” four weeks of surreal. And I’m feeling sad.

At first, I welcomed the disruption to normal life, because of my ignorance. It felt like when I was a kid living in Chicago, and school was cancelled because of snow. It seemed exciting and different, and the virus seemed far away.

However, things began to change. I could not find toilet paper or hand sanitizer (my staple for years. I put these in my kids stockings every year!). I was alarmed to see how many people did not know how to wash their hands! I hate to hear about people losing their jobs and to see the stock market dropping so much! Then one day, I got a text from a close friend whose elderly Mother was sick with the Covid-19 virus. Because she has Alzheimer’s, she was so confused and didn’t understand why she had to be isolated or why her daughter and grandchildren couldn’t come in to see her. I just broke down and cried so hard. It hit closer to home.

I soon found myself lost in all the stories from around the world, of sickness, death, loss and sadness. I would fluctuate between the "surrealness" of our collective lives and the sadness of all the loss I saw around me. Loss of health, lives, jobs, school, special days like weddings, proms and graduations. Sacred days like funerals/memorials and church services. Loss of rhythms, routines, control.

To stop myself from getting swallowed up with my sadness and grief, I would distract myself with activity. I’ve walked more in the last 4 weeks than the previous 4 months! Which is a good thing since I’ve baked banana breads, pumpkin bread, quiche and other food and desserts that I haven’t been previously motivated to make. We replaced my Mom’s entire fence and ours! I’ve cleaned our office and our closet. I’m thankful for all the productivity. But…I had to stop running from my sadness. Which is odd that I was. I’m a feeler. A melancholic, a type D, an INFP, a number 4 on the enneagram :) Feelings are my jam.

Then, I listened to a podcast by Pastor Pete Scazzero*, and he put into words what I felt: a “collective dark night of the soul.”

As I’ve talked to family, friends, neighbors, and clients, we have all experienced some loss. And it feels bigger than all of us. So much is out of our control. He warned that if we don’t deal with our grief, our hearts can become hardened and we lose the ability to empathize. And we can go to 2 extremes:

1) we can become detached and disconnected to protect ourselves, or
2) we drown in our sorrows and get overwhelmed, crushed with despair.

These were the two extremes I was fluctuating in!

There is a holiness to the process of grief and loss, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are offered courage to face the world as it is. Not run away or medicate ourselves. But, it’s hard work.”  

Pete goes on to describe three phases of Biblical grieving:
  1. I pay attention. I allow myself to feel the grief and loss. David, Jeremiah, Jesus all allowed themselves to feel their grief. Two thirds of the Psalms are laments. Isaiah 53:3 says that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief/suffering. Our culture doesn’t do suffering. But as believers in Jesus, we need to learn to do suffering well. So I start my day journaling, and if I feel sad, I offer these feelings to the Lord. I ask him what he wants to tell me through them. Then I read his Word. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18 NLT). Sometimes he needs to remind me that he grieves with me, or that this is not our home, or that he is sovereign and the author of life and death. Job 14:5 states “You [God, not Covid19] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer” (NLT). 
  2. Waiting in the confusing in between. “Can you live in the darkness of the cross?” This is the hardest part for me. Staying with God even when nothing is changing (or seems like that). I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but not his sufferings. I’m a chicken and addicted to ease and comfort. I want quick fixes and I want control. But this involves surrendering to God’s will, versus my own will. We can’t control things. “Our real addiction is control, playing God. But there is an invitation from God to say yes and trust in his control.” This is the stage where more Christians fall away from God. When God seems absent or far away. I don’t want to be apart of that statistic. So I am continuing to learn how to live in the in between, in the waiting for change, and going to God with all of it.
  3. Believe in the Resurrection. Allow the old to birth the new. It’s through grief/loss/suffering that we become mature. Henri Nouwen said “The degree to which we grieve our losses, is the degree to which we are compassionate people. There is no compassion without many tears.” Just like Jesus’s resurrection, God delights in redeeming evil for good. I already see how God is birthing new, good things. I love all the stories of people helping neighbors, and the deeper appreciation of things, like teachers, healthcare workers, family and friend time, health, jobs, even something as silly as toilet paper! The creativity and humor of others is so interesting and fun to see. All the funny meme’s that remind us that we are all in this together. But what about the things we don’t see? The people who have cried out to God and found him for the first time. The people who reconnect with God out of their fear or sorrow. Those of us who are experiencing God’s love and comfort in a very personal way.

What about you and me?

I want to encourage us to pay attention and process our sadness, to keep surrendering to God’s will and trust Him in the waiting, and to look around and notice God’s redemption of our collective suffering.

*The information from Pastor Pete Scazzero came from his podcast “Leading Through Loss During the Coronavirus Pandemic” March 24, 2020, on The Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast

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