Read this before you step back into society

Wisdom for re-entry

It started on March 13, so we are now into our third month (or tenth week) of “social isolation”, this weird restriction on our socialising, our working, our schooling, our playing, our lives.

I need to remind myself daily that something very serious is happening – that this corona bug is really very nasty and that I need to take it seriously because, in truth, my life hasn’t changed all that much.

But for some it has been catastrophic – in the death of loved ones, the ending of businesses, living without a secure income.

And for many it has just been really, really hard – living in complete isolation for two months or homeschooling on top of working from home, or not being able attending your child’s wedding!

For all of us, life has been quite different. It’s been quieter. We have had a bit more time at our disposal. We’ve seen more of our families. We have been less caught up in our multi-ministries (teaching Scripture in classrooms has stopped, cooking meals for church dinners has stopped, planning beach mission has stopped). We’ve been less caught up in socialising, freeing up hours on our Saturdays from the planning, shopping and cooking involved with any dinner party!

Some have resumed neglected hobbies. Some have spoken to old friends not seen in years. Some have discovered walks in their local area they never knew existed.

So how can we begin this “re-entry process” wisely? How can we hold on to the gains and move forward into the next chapter, integrating our new insights? Let me offer three suggestions:

1. Choose choice

Despite the fact that most of us have mixed feelings about “returning to normal”, the good news is that we have choices. Yes, we do have choices. We really do.

We can reflect on these last few months, and prayerfully think through our choices moving forward.

Has my normal really been “too busy?” Would I do well to allow myself more buffer time in my week – time for that hobby (that really is SO good for my mental health); time to keep up this exercise routine I have started; time to read; time to pray?

Could I give myself permission to NOT do that third ministry; to NOT book up every Saturday night?

We have to be able to be counter-cultural with our lives.

Is it more effective evangelism to have dinner with my neighbours on a regular basis than go on beach mission?

It is an essential ingredient of mental health to know that I have choices, to feel able to make good choices and to feel in control of my life – not being a slave to “people pleasing” or even “pastor pleasing”! We live before an audience of One. So I am a huge advocate for using our diaries to allocate time where we want to spend it. Take time by yourself or talk with your partner about your choices and your involvements, and about being intentional with your time.

As Christians, we have to be able to be counter-cultural with our lives. We can do it differently (1 Peter 2:11-12). We don’t have to just pursue the career and the house and the toys that the world tells us is our right, and then merely add church to our already busy lives.

We can pursue radical, obedient discipleship, investing in people, being “rich towards God”. It is so easy to let these worldly values tiptoe into our hearts, because no-one will really notice for a while – except God.

2. Make a plan

Ask yourself the question “what has God been saying to me over these months?” Get pen and paper, or a fresh page on your Notes app, to think it through and write it down. Discuss it with a friend.

For many of us, cracks have appeared in our family relationships and perhaps God wants us to do some things differently. So plan it out. What will that look like? Don’t just smooth over the cracks and try to ignore it! Listen to where God is leading you.

Some of us are thinking we could do ministry differently …

Do I need to repent (change) some of my attitudes or habits? Would it enrich our family life if I committed myself to reading a great book on marriage or on parenting, or maybe talking to a counsellor?

Some of us are thinking that we could do ministry differently, perhaps by investing in a few people more deeply, rather than spreading ourselves so thin.

Could we also pursue that gold standard of discipleship: offering to read the Bible and pray with a friend on a regular basis? Yes, it takes my time, but it is an investment for eternity.

3. Safeguard against anxiety

If there is anxiety for you around resuming aspects of “normal life”, apply some of these anxiety remedies to yourself!

  • Don’t feed the fear by ruminating on “what-ifs” and negativities. Refuse this!
  • Reassure yourself: “Our leaders are successfully getting this virus under control. We really are the lucky country. We need to continue with the health guidelines (handwashing, distancing, sneeze etiquette) but we are making progress!”
  • Strengthen your sense of yourself with positive self-talk. “I can do this.” “I am learning to do this.” “I am learning how to be confident.” “I have choices.”
  • Plan yourself a strategy for enjoying it and doing it differently. Meet up with one of the school-mums before dropping off the kids to school. Ask your boss about permanently working from home a few days per week. Send your child’s teacher an email about your concerns or observations from home-schooling. Ask for what you want! Jesus encourages this (Matthew 7:7).

Remember, this is just one season of our lives. It’s a season that has taken us by surprise, but not God. He knew all about it from the beginning, and he is working out his purposes through it (Romans 8:28, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Jesus is still the Light of the World. He is still our Risen Saviour. He is still the only One worth serving and worshipping.

So let’s be optimistic and intentional about this interesting new chapter opening up around us.

Sue Bartho is a clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist with extensive experience helping people with anxiety.

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