by Jolene Chong, Kota Kemuning church of Christ
It’s certainly been a roller-coaster of a year- and we’re only halfway through! If someone had told me prior to 2020 that I’d spare a penny for my thoughts on what it was like to experience being in lockdown due to a global pandemic, I’d had stared at them, convinced they had lost their grip on reality.
Yet, here I write, at what I can only hope is the decline of the COVID-19 pandemic. We aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but we are progressing to a better season; for that, we rejoice! In my time socially distancing from others during the Movement Control Order (MCO), several recurring themes and thoughts came to mind, which I decided to share as a handful of reflection points:
- Gratitude and thankfulness are not only relevant at the points of being blessed greatly. We can still be thankful even during hard times.
In Matthew 5, when Jesus preached at the sermon on the Mount, I found a beautiful contrast in certain verses: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn
How can one feel blessed at times of great sorrow? It was during my prayers and self-reflection, armed with a gratitude journal to fill, where I realized that we can train ourselves to see all we have that is good during the difficult times.
- Times of crisis allow us to revisit our heroes …
The drivers who delivered our food became our link to a sense of normalcy. The healthcare workers and nurses became our frontliners, putting their lives at risk to curb the virus. “Essential services” did not comprise of famous actors or footballers, but the people who needed to keep our industries and demands running. In the same way many Biblical leaders came from humble origins (our saviour Jesus was born into an essential services family!), our world is indebted to these everyday heroes.
- … as well as our priorities
COVID-19 was labelled as “a pause button” by many due to the forced changes we made in our lives to remain alive. This would naturally bring about reflection, particularly in what I valued most and adjusting perceptions of my priorities. As a personal example, I reflected on how it was valuable for me to see my fellow brothers and sisters, because it was from assembling together where I gained strength and perspective in my Christian journey. This helped greatly in making considerations on what aspects of my life uplifted or drained me, and what I could change after the MCO.
- We were so very, very blessed to have gone through a lockdown with our current advancements.
Something I noted a number of times this year was how, if we had been asked to go into lockdown 20-30 years ago, our days would have panned out very differently! Instead of relying on entertainment at home or daily newspapers, technology was advanced enough to bring almost anything we wanted to our doorsteps. We had hourly updates on what we were experiencing, and we got to see the faces of our loved ones in real time. Very importantly for us as Christians, we were able to continue worshipping together although physically apart. And we could do all this without leaving our houses!
- Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad.
Proverbs 12: 25 encapsulated the positive side of my MCO experiences very well; as a person who thrives on words of affirmation, the ability to connect with the people I cared for made all the difference. We laughed, sent each other gifts, and spoke/shared, remaining as together as the circumstances allowed. So many kind souls kept in touch, sharing love in all forms and ways instead of keeping their blessing to themselves. In every effort I made to spread kindness and good words, I saw someone else in the congregation do so two-fold. I am surrounded by so bright a light from the people around me!
- I initially felt underqualified to share my reflections (perhaps you may too?)…
The first thing that came to mind when asked to write about my pandemic is to address how compared to many others, I experienced great privilege and providence from God, which may perhaps disqualify me from writing a worthy article. Everyone I know and love were unaffected, including my family members with compromised health. My company was headed by intelligent, principled leaders who protected our salaries and positions. I did not experience financial or resource-based distress.
What then, could I share?
- …but my experiences were real. The pain, and growth, were real. All of ours were.
If there was an area I truly struggled with, it was remaining positive during COVID-19.
I experienced feelings of great anxiety, doubt and uncertainty, particularly during the first few weeks where everything happened so rapidly. I argued with people (and I’m the last person to pick a fight!). My time blended sleepless nights with long days, working from home/over Zoom to troubleshoot for a shaky few months ahead. Being in lockdown was also dangerous in that we were being subjected to a one-way stream of news and opinions, from a large variety of sources.
We were seeing the same people and surroundings in near isolation for long periods of time; studies from neurology professors such as Patrick McNamara showed data on how that affected our REM sleep, producing more surreal and wild versions of our usual dreams. Humans have limits; psychologically, when we care too much, the compassion fatigue may lead to inability to cope. There would have been temptation to numb ourselves to everything; some days, I would have done the same. A quote attributed to Joseph Stalin which fitted this context was “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” We are currently at over half a million deaths worldwide.
Why am I highlighting all these rather sad, dark points? Because for all the wins that resulted during the lockdown, we should also actively acknowledge the difficult days. We may not all exit the COVID-19 season with a total reversal back to normalcy; for many, the pain and impact may still remain on a physical, financial and emotional level.
The pitfall that many Christians slide into is trying to portray how all problems and pain are magically erased when we choose this life ahead, making us appear cheerful and carefree all the time but repressing real, valid problems that life bring us. But just as Paul wrote to his brethren when imprisoned in Rome, or how Jesus cried out in agony at the garden of Gethsemane, it is really, truly okay as Christians to feel pain. It helps us reflect on how it feels to be fallible, and to share the ways a relationship with God makes it better.
- Finally, I learnt to pray and work towards “a good measure” in everything.
I overheard someone using this phrase in conversation a few weeks ago: “I’m glad that I have a good measure of health and success,” and it has stuck with me ever since. Instead of expecting overflowing abundance or prolonged woe, let us instead ask for a comfortable, balanced amount of everything. A good measure of the positive blessings, to keep us going while running the Christian race. A good measure of anxiety and fearful experiences, to show us that God will lead us through and help us grow.
This article closes with one of my favourite Bible verses, which seems so appropriate and encouraging during this time. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 reads: “I believe it to be one of the most powerful verses in the Bible; it is my reminder that with God, we are strong and steadfast, even amidst the chaos of a rampant, deadly virus upon our earth. After all, as Philippians 3:13 notes, we reach forward for the things which lies ahead.”