When I think of these past few years of the pandemic (and essentially of the experience of the 2020 decade thus far), I imagine myself as the wacky wavy inflatable tube person (also known as an air dancer). You know, the tall colorful inflatable figures that move to their own rhythm and are seen outside of businesses. They are made to catch your attention and draw your eye to the business they are promoting. The air coursing from beneath the inflatable material moves the arms & body of the air dancer in different directions with dramatic flourish. Yet and still the base does not move, the air dancer is anchored and as much as it looks as if it will topple over, it does not- it moves with the outside wind (exterior forces) and the air within (interior changes). In many ways, I have felt this way- moved by both exterior and interior winds during this ongoing experience of the pandemic.
External and Internal Winds
External winds of change are those life changes often outside of our control. Sometimes the winds are gentle breezes of the norm (i.e. the sun rising and setting each day). These breezes reflect the blessings we experience (such as an unexpected letter or present from someone who was thinking of you). At other times the external winds can feel brutal. The pandemic is a true example of an external wind that has tossed us about left and right, up and down. Changes in our society, in our weather, in the health of our loved ones… these are all external winds that can throw us for a loop. These winds often feel fierce especially when there are more than one life event occurring at the same time. Thankfully there are also times when the winds of life change begin to die down and we often experience the intensity of that life change decreasing. Even when the intensity has not changed, our capacity to handle the wind has strengthened and grown. Our reaction to the life change makes our experience of it as less intimidating and more manageable. As we are few years into the pandemic, we are beginning to find that we can adapt and learn new ways to cope by managing internal winds.
Internal winds of change are those where our thoughts and emotions influence our actions and reactions to others and the world around us. At times that internal air can be more challenging to navigate than the external winds. Our thoughts can be on repeat and whether we realize it or not our continual processing can create strong winds internally. When our thoughts and feelings become unhealthy (i.e. negative self-talk, hopelessness, etc.) they can be expressed in our words and actions (or inaction). When our thoughts and feelings are healthy (i.e. positive affirmations, hopefulness, etc.) they can not only center and ground ourselves but can do that same thing for others. As complex beings, we often have a mixture of healthy and unhealthy thoughts and emotions and part of our work of being human is finding ways to give ourselves grace as we balance the two. Spiritually, our internal air can have the reinforcement of attuning to the Spirit and the guidance, comfort, and renewal of our minds and hearts that the Spirit provides. Our spiritual inner air also calls our attention to when external gentle breezes of day-to-day blessings occur which can be anchoring during experiences of change.
Change and Faith
As a counselor, I have been taught and continue to teach that the work that we do with clients is helping them to navigate the changes they face in life. These changes can be interpersonal, intrapersonal, experiences from the past that still have influence in the present, or future experiences that one anticipates. The ongoing nature of the pandemic entails holding these experiences of change without a known endpoint. Each day, each month, each year of the 2020s we have been holding hope for the end of the pandemic. We find ourselves extending this due date of pandemic termination again and again. During this process, we have begun to shift towards the mindset of how to learn to live with the unknown progression of it.
Living with the tension of not knowing what will happen is a familiar experience for Christians who hold dear the tenet of walking by faith. What is special about this experience, is that as a global community we have the opportunity to engage our faith, to see ourselves with eyes of grace as we observe how we may respond in ways that reflect our faith in God and ways that do not. When we may not meet our expectation of a faith filled person, we have in this societal slowdown of the pandemic, the ability to identify areas of growth and engage in small experiments of walking in faith.
For example, at the start of the pandemic, many thought that it would only last a few months and we would back to normal by the summer of 2020. With dutiful prayer and a pivot to virtual church services, we walked in faith that God would handle this and some (myself included) believed that God would answer in our timeline… a timeline that kept extending. I recall thinking:
“It’ll be done by the end of the spring 2020…”
“Okay by the end of the summer, but surely in time for me to visit family for the winter
“Well maybe by next year then… “
“2021 cannot get any worse; welp, spoke too soon…”
“Okay by the summer maybe… God can you just tell us how long we have to put up with
The impact of the wait highlighted our faith in areas where we have taken worship outside the walls of the church building on a worldwide level and where we have stepped up to be the hands and feet of God in service for those who do not have what they need in times of crisis. The wait has also highlighted areas of growth in faith, where some have dipped into fatalism (i.e. what is the point anyway) and doubt, at times deflating their sense of hope. Because we are still walking through this experience, finding moments to address those growth areas are plenteous. We can encourage ourselves of God’s faithfulness in the past and God’s presence still with us, gently expressing love and goodness in the small everyday moments of life (i.e. receiving a thoughtful email of gratitude, having enough food to get you through the week, seeing the beautiful sunset, walking outside and seeing nature continue to function in its season, hearing laughter, etc.). Becoming aware of those moments that have always been there brings us into the present and remind us to live one day at a time, the best we can, with the expectation to experience God’s goodness and direction in how we can share that goodness to others. Here our walking in faith is because we are anchored in God.
Circling back to the air dancers, what makes their movement so dynamic is that they are anchored. Their bottoms do not move and it visually appears that they are rooted deep down into the earth. While we know that they do not have roots, we as believers do. We have strong roots that go into the depths of our faith. These roots anchor us, they ground us when facing both internal and external winds. They stabilize us when we feel we might fly away by the whipping of the winds of life. These roots allow us to draw upon the resources of our faith and supply us with nutrients to continue to live (i.e. encouraging words, the feeling of God’s presence, drawing upon the living water). When I consider the air dancer, the source of their air comes from the anchor… what brings them to life comes from the anchor… their ability to move and function is sourced from the anchor. The spiritual inner air and the external gentle breezes can bring our attention back to our anchor in God and the deep roots we have access to, the source of our very life.
The pandemic has molded us into a multitude of air dancers, sometimes colliding with others, sometimes isolated in desolate/quarantined areas, sometimes wondering where the air is within us. When facing questions of how do we cope with this change of lifestyle and when will this uncertainty end:
- We hold onto our faith (recalling God’s faithfulness in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors)
- We accept the gifts of the valuable tools we have gained during this time (flexibility, normalization, creativity to find new ways of getting what we need, being in the moment & fully present, having time for reflection & stillness within, knowing that we can hold more than one emotion at once (grief and joy, frustration and wonder, etc.)
- We connect to the spiritual wind within and appreciate the external gentle breezes that remind us of our connection to our anchor.
What are your external and internal winds?
What do you identify as your anchor during this time?
This spring, Sowing Holy Questions explores creating what is next, the new normal, grieving for what we cannot return to, and being “beside ourselves.”