This semester we returned to in-person instruction, and we found ourselves transitioning back to the familiar… yet the familiar had changed. We were returning to being together in a classroom after a year and a half of virtual engagement and social distancing. We would be connecting, conversing, and learning together through masks (which called upon a new skill set of learning to read facial expressions from the eyes up). On the first day of class a question bubbled up within me, “Do I even still know how to do this- this engaging in a changed familiar of teaching & interacting in person?” Well, we are a month into this new familiar and this time has confirmed that while in some ways things are the same, this experience of returning is also different and that, yes, we do know how to do this because we are figuring it out together.
Our experiences throughout this pandemic have offered opportunities to engage and reflect on how we deal with change- individually, as a community, as a society, and as a world. When I think of change, I think of the fact that we encounter things in our lives that give us the opportunity to grow… to learn a lesson we need so that we can be prepared for what is to come. I will be honest, there are times I find myself saying, “God, I think I’m good on this lesson, there has been a lot of change, I get it, change happens, let’s move on to something else.” Thankfully, God is patient with me and helps me to see that this ‘pandemic prompted change’ not only provides space for individual lessons learned, but for worldwide lessons to be learned. In this collective growth opportunity, we get to consider ways we have dealt with change in the past (what worked and did not work) and what we may do differently. With the ongoing nature of the pandemic, it can feel like we are not getting the lesson. But perhaps there is more to this conceptualization of change than what I have shared. Perhaps the practice of reframing can help us better understand and navigate these changes.
In counseling, the concept of reframing involves shifting one’s way of thinking about something and creating a different perspective. We have the growth opportunity to reframe how we think of change from ‘a lesson to learn and move on from’ to: 1) a strengthening of our coping skills, 2) a chance to engage deeper in our faith, and 3) an experience of adventure. When we consider how we react and adapt to change, there may be signature ways that we cope (i.e. blame, creating alternate plans, joy, reaching out to support systems, etc.). This enduring time of change in the pandemic has brought to the surface how we cope and has shone a light on the importance of self-care. During this time, I have seen people share their ideas and practices of self-care with each other, which normalized the experience of collective engagement with change and inspired the courage to try new effective ways of coping (i.e. virtually dancing out frustration with thousands of people on a DJ’s live Instagram). This first reframe offers us the chance to view change as a way of increasing and strengthening our coping skills which may be helpful for us both in this moment and in years to come.
The second reframe of thinking of change as a way to deepen our faith has the potential to help us explore the sacred. Kenneth Pargament (2007) describes spirituality as “the search for the sacred” (p.32). This time of ongoing change is one in which we get to return to the questions: What do we deem as sacred in our lives and where are we in the search for what we have deemed sacred? These questions will prompt responses unique to each person. For me, I find myself leaning more into my beliefs and into the understanding that while things do change, God remains steadfast. I recognize that my experience of God changes as I learn more, seek, and grow in my relationship with God, but at the core I see God as constant. This notion is grounding for me (especially when change seems overwhelming) because I can anchor myself in God whom I deem as sacred for me. Your understanding and experience of sacred might be similar or different from mine. I encourage you to explore what sacred means to you and how it can be a support for you in facing change. This reframe offers us the chance to engage our spiritual beliefs and values at deeper levels.
Change is not monolithic but can be multifaceted and we can experience the changes of the pandemic and reentry as holding multiple experiences (such as the opposing emotions of joy and sorrow and of fun and frustration). While our previous reframes of change speak to change as frustration and sorrow, this third reframe of change as an adventure provides a different energy. I think of adventure as fun, exciting, and as courageous engagement in the unknown. As an adventure, there is an openness and acceptance of what we have no control over- of what is uncertain. We can individually and collectively create something new within the experience of the unknown.
As the adventure unfolds, we see our expectations adapting to each new iteration of change. We learn to pivot with each twist and turn of the adventure. We learn to give grace to ourselves and to others as we recognize that everybody is on this adventure of change. Here are a couple of tips on ways to give grace: 1) Throw perfectionism out of the window (free yourself and others from the impossible standard of being perfect), 2) Consider context (recognize that we are engaging in life [i.e. family, work, ministry] under a different context than before the pandemic and that expectations can be adjusted- both for ourselves and others), 3) Encourage yourself (say to yourself, ‘Self, you are continuing to show up, to try, to love, to make your experience the best you can and when things pivot, you find a way to keep going- well done’… then try saying that to others and sharing whatever positive affirmation that helps you), 4) Treat yourself (find ways to fill your tank- living through change can pull from our personal well of energy- explore and play with finding ways to fill your well via self-care practices unique to you & encourage others to do so), and 5) Prioritize Wellness (it is okay and recommended during this time of change to put your wellness first- this might be taking a day off or even 15minutes to yourself; it could be going to the doctor for a routine checkup; it could be moving your body if able [stretching, walking, deep breathing, exercising]; it could be fueling your body with foods good for the soul [however you define that]; and it could be so much more- take time to explore what you need and be understanding when others also engage in the practice of prioritizing wellness).
As we give grace, we are able to live in the present moment, to walk by faith in what we deem sacred, and to become more flexible with what the adventure presents. This helps us grow in our ability pivot. Like learning a new dance, we can pivot from one step to another, going with the shift of tempo, and giving ourselves grace when we stumble but persevere. So, while our dance moves may not appear graceful, each moment of our dance of adventure can be full of grace. Together we learn to pivot, to shift, and to change with grace- a grace that we give to ourselves, to each other, and to this time of change we are living in.
What coping skills for change have you learned or would like to try?
What is sacred to you and how does that sacredness help you navigate change?
In what ways are you being drawn to pivot and how is grace showing up in that moment?
Pargament, K.I. (2007). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the
sacred. The Guildford Press.
This fall, Sowing Holy Questions reflects on pandemic re-entry, with emphasis on the theological, equity, and/or mental health ramifications of living in these times.